Over the following weeks we will be sharing a series of question and answer articles about our day-to-day lives in a Court of Protection team. This week, I interviewed Ruth Meyer who is a partner and head of the Court of Protection team.
Ruth qualified in 1990 and is a partner at Boyes Turner, heading up the Court of Protection group. Ruth has considerable experience in Trustee and Deputyship work and particularly in acting for clients who have suffered profound injury resulting from the negligence of others.
Her memberships include the Law Society’s Probate Section, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners and Solicitors for the Elderly. She is also a panel member of Mencap.
In 2013 Ruth was ranked as a leading UK Court of Protection Solicitor in the Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession and is described as caring ‘passionately about her clients’ welfare’ in the Legal 500.
- How much variety is there in your work?
The work within the Court of Protection team is highly varied. My day changes from day to day. Each family is unique and we offer a very bespoke service to meet the needs of clients. I manage deputyships for people who do not have sufficient capacity to manage their finances as well as private trusts for clients who do have capacity to manage their finances but remain vulnerable. We also deal with the purchase and adaptation of properties, the employment of carers and case managers as well as therapists. We purchase equipment and ensure vat exemption forms are completed as well as dealing with annual accounts, tax returns, benefits and the investment of funds though financial advisers. In between all this many one off issues appear and in the past we have had to deal with properties that have flooded, emergency vet fees for a much loved family pet and arson attacks. The list can go on but it certainly adds to an eventful day! However, behind all this I know we have clients who are worried and need to know that they have professional help in sorting out some very significant issues.
- What do you see as the major issues/ trends in Court of Protection today?
I think it has become harder over the years to open up a deputyship or trust bank account. It must be very difficult for non–solicitor deputies. I have built up a good working relationship with two local banks who offer an excellent service and who will immediately sort out matters in the unlikely event of something going wrong. This is so important as it can be really stressful if you cannot access money and funds are required urgently for care or for rent.In addition I have noticed a more paper based approach as there are many forms to complete in order to obtain a deputyship. Years ago the Public Guardianship Office (as it was known then) would assign a case manager to every single file and a deputy could speak directly with the case manager to obtain some additional support on a matter that may not be straightforward.In addition, previously a visitor from the court used to visit the client each year and I would always coincide my annual visit at the same time so that we could discuss any issues together and how they could be solved. Unfortunately such visits are now randomly assigned and may only be once every three years, although on occasions I have contacted the OPG to request a visit for a vulnerable client that urgently requires it and this has been arranged.
- What are the toughest problems and decisions you handle?
Some of the hardest problems relate to the finances for children who have been damaged at birth and have received a ‘substantial’ compensation award. To most people such awards do appear ‘substantial’ but the costs of therapies, adapting properties and appealing to a Special Educational Needs Tribunal can be high and expenses need to be carefully managed and budgeted for, as well as being in the child’s best interest. The difficulties arise when families want money to spend on matters that the award was not designed for such as an expensive family holiday or, contrary to this, the family do not want to spend any of the money mainly because they have got to a point in which they do not want carers or therapists in their home and wish to protect their privacy.Both issues can be difficult to manage and require diplomacy and tact. With holidays I usually explain to the family that we can pay for the additional costs of taking a disabled child on holiday as such expenses would cover the need for a larger room or specialist transport. These costs can be met from the award of compensation but if they have not been included then they will need to be paid from another ‘pot’ of money within the award so effectively we would be taking money which has been reserved for something else.In respect to the privacy issue I have to be mindful that families do require privacy and maybe we could look at alternative solutions such as reserving a room in a local sports centre for physiotherapy or having carers who visit daily rather than live in. In respect to such matters it is better to build up the relationship with the family first and then gradually introduce carers and therapist’s so that a relationship of trust is established and the family can then see how beneficial the care and therapy is.
- What attribute or experience do you look for in solicitors joining your team?
When looking for team members I value common sense and empathy above any other attribute. Most of our clients are vulnerable and their families may also require additional support and understanding. A solicitor needs to be able to ensure that clients feel comfortable so that they are able to ask as many questions as they want. Visiting a solicitor for the first time can be a worrying experience for clients who do not have much contact with solicitors. I usually find that as soon as clients have met me face to face they feel much more relaxed and this assists in giving advice on the way forward and building up a long term relationship.
- Do you have any advice for anyone interested in qualifying into Court of Protection?
For anyone interested in joining a Court of Protection team I would advise them to begin with the basics! They need to make sure that they have a thorough understanding of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Code of Practice as this forms the basis of much of the work we do. I would then advise obtaining a working knowledge of how deputyship accounts are completed, the various forms to use as well as an understanding of income tax and who to approach for independent investment advice. Working in a Court of Protection team covers a variety of aspects and you need to have a little knowledge about a lot of things and know where and when to look things up!
- What do you like most about working in the Court of Protection team?
I really enjoy heading up the Court of Protection team. I started as an assistant solicitor with a background in Wills and Probate and eventually dealt with everything to do with Court of Protection work. This gave me a solid background and understanding of issues and now I act as deputy running a team of seven. Each team member is able to offer something different and we work together on matters so that we can offer the best possible service and advice. We use each other’s strengths to focus on applications, research matters and prepare detailed budgeting forecasts but behind all this are a team that cares passionately about the work they do and will always pull together to get the best for clients.