HC Deb 11 June 2002 vol 386 cc714-5
32. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

If he will make a statement about the fees for enduring powers of attorney. [57410]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton)

In its report on the Public Trust Office, the Public Accounts Committee was highly critical of fees paid by some clients subsidising different services used by others, and of the pattern of cost recovery. Fees for Enduring Powers of Attorney Act 1985 cases were changed on 17 April 2002. The new fees mean that EPA clients no longer receive subsidy from users of other services provided by the Public Guardianship Office, and that fees are set to recover costs. Improved remissions guidelines make sure that less well-off EPA clients pay less than before the fees were changed, or pay nothing at all.

Andrew Selous

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will she give an undertaking to the House to publish a yearly total of the number of EPA registrations, to enable us to see whether the recent trebling of the registration fee is acting as a disincentive to vulnerable people?

Ms Winterton

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, so far, the number of registrations has not altered since the fees were changed. About 11,000 EPAs were registered last year, and, so far, the figures seem to be similar. I shall investigate whether the figures can be published. I am not sure whether they are published in the annual report, and I shall consider whether we can do that.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

On 3 April this year, in reply to my written question, the Minister made it clear that No date has yet been set for the introduction of changes to the fees charged by the Public Guardianship Office"—[Official Report, 3 April 2002; Vol. 382, c. 1036W.] It has become clear that that reply was not correct. The House therefore deserves an explanation for the misleading reply, and I wait to hear the Minister's explanation.

Ms Winterton

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I became aware of the situation, and he is right that by the time the written answer to which he refers appeared in Hansard, it was out of date. I discovered only yesterday what had happened, and I take this opportunity—I spoke to the hon. Gentleman earlier about this—to say that I am extremely sorry for unintentionally misleading the House. I know that my noble and learned Friend Baroness Scotland has acknowledged the error in another place. Although my written answer was formulated in good faith, I hope that hon. Members will accept that I am sorry for the error, and I welcome the opportunity today to correct the matter for the parliamentary record.