Managing benefits on behalf of somebody else
When a person is unable to manage their welfare benefits, someone else can do it on their behalf in a number of different ways. The most common is when a family member or a friend acts as an appointee. If the person also has substantial finances or property that needs looking after, the Court of Protection can appoint a deputy to make decisions on their behalf. When a person has capacity to manage their own benefits, but would nevertheless like someone else to do it on their behalf, they can authorise this by giving a power of attorney.
This page focuses on the role of the appointee. Please note, this page only applies to England and Wales.
It also gives brief information about Deputies and Attorneys. Although Deputies and Attorneys have a different legal status, their responsibilities in relation to managing someone’s benefits are generally the same as those of the appointee.
Who is an appointee?
An Appointee is a person who has been appointed by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) or a local authority to receive welfare benefits on behalf of someone who is unable to manage their affairs, generally because of mental incapacity. However, sometimes an appointee can be appointed for a person with exceptionally severe physical disability. An appointee cannot be appointed simply because it is more convenient to have one, or because it is hard for a person to get to the bank. It is important to note that an Appointee has no role beyond welfare benefits.
Who can act as an appointee?
The appointee can be ‘personal’, e.g. a friend or family member, or ‘corporate’, for example the housing association where the person is living. When there is a family member or a friend who could act as an appointee, the DWP prefers to appoint them rather than an organisation. A personal appointee has to be over 18 years old.
Alternatives to appointees: Deputies and Attorneys
If the person is already represented by a Deputy or an Attorney, they cannot have an appointee as well. However, either of these is able to deal with the person’s welfare benefits if the terms of their appointment are broad enough.
A Deputy is a person who has been appointed by the Court of Protection to make ongoing decisions on behalf of someone who lacks mental capacity to decide the particular matters for himself or herself. There are two kinds of Deputies: ‘health & welfare’ and ‘financial’.
Health & welfare Deputies deal with questions of medical treatment, residential placements, etc. It is rare for the Court to appoint a health & welfare Deputy, as minor decisions are made by those who are working with the incapacitated individual at the time in his/her best interests, while more complex decisions are made by the Court itself.
Financial Deputies are usually appointed by the Court where the person lacks capacity to handle their own finances and is unlikely to (re)gain such capacity within a reasonable timeframe, and where the incapacitated person has significant capital (normally £18,000 or above), substantial income or a property in their own name.
An Attorney is someone whom an individual has authorised in a legally-binding document to make decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so, for example, when they are abroad. It is now possible to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), authorising the attorney (or ‘donee’) to make specific decisions after the ‘donor’ has lost capacity to make them himself or herself.
Different LPAs cover property/finance and health/welfare; and some people make both. An LPA is a formal document which has to be signed, witnessed and registered at the Court of Protection.
Someone who currently lacks the capacity to understand what such an appointment would mean cannot make a LPA. An LPA which was supposedly made by someone with enduring incapacity may be invalid, and possibly even fraudulent.
Becoming an Appointee
An individual who wishes to act as a personal appointee should make a written request to the DWP. They are usually expected to have discussed this matter with other close relatives and if possible with the person concerned. They will then be interviewed by an executive officer of the DWP who will take them through the questions in a form called a BF56, which includes a list of an appointee’s responsibilities. They will be asked to sign to confirm that the prospective appointee has read and understood what this role entails. If as a result of the interview the DWP decides that the appointment is appropriate, they will send a letter to the appointee confirming the appointment and explaining what their responsibilities are.
There is no requirement to produce any medical evidence. However, the officer should also interview the incapacitated person separately, to check that they lack the capacity to manage their finances.
Appointees can also be appointed by the local authority to manage housing benefits and council tax benefits. If someone has already been appointed by the DWP, the local authority should accept them as an appointee for housing benefits, if they request it and if a copy of the letter confirming their appointment is presented to the local authority.
Responsibilities of the appointee
The appointee is fully responsible for acting on behalf of the person for whom they are appointed in all dealings with the DWP. This includes:
- Claiming benefits, getting benefits advice, identifying which benefits to claim, completing and signing claim forms providing any other additional evidence. The appointee is expected to make any renewal claims where appropriate.
- Collecting benefit payments and managing the money.
- Reporting changes in a person’s circumstances, which include change of address, changes in capital, whether a person goes into hospital, whether they plan to be abroad, etc. It is important that the appointee carefully reads all the information they receive from the DWP. The changes which the DWP needs to know about are listed in the leaflet which is sent together with a letter awarding the benefit.
- The appointee is also responsible for reporting any changes in their own circumstances that the Department may require, e.g. a change of name or address or change to their account details.
- If the appointee thinks that the DWP’s decision about the person’s benefits is wrong they can ask for a statement of reasons or a revision, or can lodge an appeal.
Managing the benefits
For the purpose of receiving the person’s benefits, an appointee should open a bank account in their own name. Appointees are legally responsible for ensuring that the person’s money is kept separately from their own, and that all expenditure is for the person’s benefit and in the person’s best interests.
Importantly, if the person is claiming means-tested benefits, the appointee has to make themselves aware of any income or capital the person has and ensure that the balance in all accounts held on behalf of the claimant, or in the claimant’s name, does not go above the threshold at which the benefits are reduced or even stopped.
If the capital goes above the capital limits, the appointee has to let the DWP know as soon as possible. It is important that the appointee regularly monitors all accounts belonging to the person or into which their money goes.
The DWP can ask for details of how the money was spent. If so, the appointee has a duty to provide the information. In cases of large purchases above £1000, when the person is claiming means-tested benefits and their capital is close to the capital limits, it is essential to get advice, and always to keep the receipts. The larger the sum of money, the more advisable it is to get the DWP’s approval before the money is spent.
Appointees are not allowed to charge for their services and cannot spend the person’s money for their own benefit.
Can an appointee be held financially or otherwise responsible for their actions?
If the appointee fails to report a change of circumstances when they were aware of the change and knew that it might affect the person’s benefits, or intentionally gives the DWP information which is not true, the DWP has the discretion to recover any overpayment resulting from such actions directly from the appointee.
How an appointeeship is ended
If the current appointee wishes to stop acting in this role, they can notify the DWP by letter or phone, giving them a month’s notice. If there is someone who in their opinion could act as a new appointee, they should tell the DWP this. At the end of the notice period the DWP will suspend the individual’s benefits, if the payments were made into an account held under the appointee’s name. The benefits will restart, and all arrears will be paid, once a new appointee is in place.
An appointeeship can also be ended if a person for whom the appointee was appointed (re)gains capacity to manage their benefits, or if the DWP revokes the appointment because the appointee has acted inappropriately.
If you are acting as an appointee and have questions about your role, you can find more information on the DWP’s website. You can always call them and clarify any questions you have. Alternatively, contact our Information and Advice team.
First published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
Updated: Wednesday 5 March 2014