Scrutiny members have urged Lewisham Council to rethink plans to scrap a service that manages the finances of very vulnerable people.  

The power of attorney service is offered by the council when residents are unable to manage their own financial affairs or lack the mental capacity to do so. 

See related: Lewisham proposes cut to financial management service

It safeguards money for rent, makes sure bills are paid, and protects people from being taken advantage of. 

Part of three-year draft proposals to make £40 million in cuts, the council plans to save £160,000 next year if the cut is approved in February.   

See related: Lewisham Council publishes draft budget cuts

It plans to seek out external providers, which will result in clients paying “significantly more” for the service.   

Lewisham currently offers financial support and management to about 380 adult social-care clients.  

The council is only able to charge clients for managing their finances if it has power of attorney for them (about 80 people with £5 million in funds), but it says the charges do not cover the cost of the service.   

For the rest, those managed under appointeeship, there is no funding available to the council and clients are not charged for the service.   

A council document outlined the risks of the proposed cut.  

“Requiring vulnerable clients to pay for external providers to provide this service may pose a risk of financial abuse.   

“In the past, efforts have been made by external providers to maintain standards and maximise growth for clients but these may not always be successful.   

“For those clients we currently have power of attorney for, they will be required to pay significantly more for financial support compared to what we currently charge.   

“For those clients where we are appointees, the clients will be expected to pay for the first time and from very limited amounts of income (i.e. welfare benefits),” it stated. 

The proposed cut formed part of the first round of cuts and concerns were raised about it at the public accounts committee in December.  

There is absolutely nothing that would stop my sister and myself, other than our own sense of duty, from stripping her account completely bare if we felt like it

Last night (January 13) at the healthier communities committee, members pushed to keep the service in-house, but to charge for it.  

Tom Brown, executive director of community services, told the committee: “It’s a complex issue and […] we need to make sure we have good provision to protect the assets of people who have nobody else to do that.  

“If it goes wrong we would be deemed to be negligent. We have to handle this sensitively and make sure we get it right.” 

Committee chair John Muldoon said Mr Brown made a “salient” point.  

“These are people who have no one else to look after their affairs. We are the last resort for them.  

“I’ve had representations from elsewhere that we recommend that the council continues to provide the service in-house and charge for the service.  

“They should not be penalised because they’ve got no one else to look after them. 

“And they trust the council’s social workers. We have some difficult accepting that cut in that way,” he said.  

Cllr Alan Smith spoke of his own experience and warned what could happen if the service wasn’t scrutinised.  

“I have shared with my sister the power of attorney for my mother, who has dementia, and there is so little scrutiny outside of anything the council can provide.  

“There is absolutely nothing that would stop my sister and myself, other than our own sense of duty, from stripping her account completely bare if we felt like it.  

“And it would worry me intensely if we were to farm out this kind of power to access other people’s money and goods without some very strong scrutiny. 

“Keeping it in-house keeps that scrutiny going,” he said.  

Mr Brown said there would be scrutiny via the court of protections but members said that was a “cumbersome” and costly process.  

At the meeting, held to scrutinise the second round of cuts, members also agreed several other recommendations which will be referred to the public accounts committee.  

The council is proposing a cut £1 million through “improved usage” of the better care fund – the committee asked for a clear timescale of the review and when it will get a report on it.  

There are also proposals to cut adult learning by £96,000 through “back office efficiencies”. The cut is not expected to affect learners but members asked that the service become available all year round.  

Members also urged caution about sexual reproductive health and contraceptive cuts – £250,000 – and asked that work is done to address high levels of teenage pregnancies and abortions.  

The council is also proposing a £4,279,000 cut through a review of adult social care. The committee noted the review and expects to see a report on it next month.