Lockdown Lowdown – The OPG

This blog forms part of a series of weekly interviews with several professionals during lockdown. It aims to inform Deputies and their teams about how each organisation within the field of Court of Protection has adapted to Covid-19 and what they should be aware of. Our fifth participant for Lockdown Lowdown is Ria Baxendale from the Office of the Public Guardian.

Q1. How have the OPG adapted to lockdown?

We have robust plans in place that ensure we can continue to deliver our services and we are working hard to maintain this. The deputyship team performance is being maintained throughout the period though it’s worth noting, that when the posting items to us, there can be some delays in receiving information and recommend using email where possible.

OPG remains committed to carrying out our duties, for example, in investigations we’ve prioritised those most at risk, to make sure those who need us most receive the service they deserve. At the moment, we aren’t undertaking assurance visits, however, we are keeping this under review in line with the Government guidance.

For our staff, their health and wellbeing is very important, we’re regularly updating our staff on advice provided by Government and Public Health England (PHE). We’ve displayed PHE posters in key areas to ensure our staff follow government advice. For those working in the office and as part of our plans to return more staff in the future, social distancing posters and one-way systems have been put in place in our offices to remind people and encourage them to maintain social distancing.

We have seen some areas of backlog during the processing of an application and have focused our overtime on clearing these backlogs and to try to maintain our target of 40 working days to process an application. During the past few months, we’ve seen a slight increase to 45 working days. We’ve also had a focus internally on staff wellbeing, creating specific sections on the intranet for staff to access information easily, we have regular all staff calls for updates and Q&A and wellbeing packs have been created with consideration for those who live alone for long weekends. Guidance has been created for OPG users for completing their roles during the COVID lockdown and is available on gov.uk

Q2. What impact do you think this will have on professional Deputies?

So far there is no impact on professional deputies in terms of the service we provide and usual workings. We are always striving to improve our systems to make reporting as easy as possible for deputies and to facilitate our supervision. Online reporting is now fully rolled out and we have received very positive feedback. We would encourage deputies to engage with us if there are areas in which they have suggestions for improvement.

In addition, we have just initiated a review of some of our supervision processes, we will be engaging our stakeholders throughout and will consider the impact on our users of any potential recommendations which this exercise generates. We operate in a culture of continuous improvement and welcome feedback at any time.

Q3. Have the OPG learnt anything so far from the pandemic?

Our main learnings during Covid-19 have been how we can adapt our current ways of working. We’ve enabled our contact centre staff to work from home, introduced new processes within our operations team allowing some areas of case work to be done from home and introduced an offsite printing and posting system for our mail.

We’ve seen an increased need in our digital services so we’ve shifted some focus to going digital as some of our processes are still very paper based. There’s been emphasis on Use an LPA, allowing donors and attorneys to share their LPA with banks and utility services by using an online code system which is currently in its private BETA phase. We’ve also learnt how important an LPA is to assist people in times such as this, and how important advance planning is so that people can act on your behalf when needed, which is why we created an entirely online version of our Your Voice Campaign. We’ve focused on raising awareness of LPAs within a new target audience, those from a BAME background, as they’ve been disproportionately affected by the virus. This campaign has been entirely focused online with the idea to increase uptake of lasting powers of attorney, or alternative to help them plan for the future.

Q4. Are the OPG still available by telephone?
Yes, our contact centre is still up and running. We have adapted to allow most of our staff to work from home with skeleton staff in the office. If you would like to speak to your dedicated case manager we would advise emailing the Professional Team and we will arrange for your case manager to call you.

Q5. What is the OPG’s priority at this time?

The OPG’s priority continues to be to fulfil its statutory functions. We continue to supervise and support deputies during this time.

Q6. Do the OPG have any feedback for professionals about the OPG105?

We would continue to encourage all professional deputies to provide as much detail as possible in their annual reports, including the cost sections. Where detailed information is provided, this significantly reduces the need for us to ask any further questions of you. The OPG appreciates that circumstances can change throughout the year, we would encourage you to keep us updated about these changes and any impact this may have on your costs by speaking to your case manager or by emailing opg.pro@publicguardian.gov.uk.

Q7. How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

Workwise, I have been frantically working with my team on updating our online guidance to support people during this period and providing 24 hour turnaround policy advice to operational staff to help them deal with queries from the public.  A lot of the work has focused on managing the current situation, but I have also been progressing business as usual items as well in the margins, so that OPG can continue to move forward in its service delivery in the future.

Personally, I have a very active dog, who has got far too used to his personal assistant working from home, providing cuddles on demand, giving outdoor access whenever he likes and taking him to the park every day for a good run.  My cat, on the other hand, can’t wait for these human invaders to leave his house as they are interrupting his sleep schedule.  I have also discovered Netflix and Amazon Prime over this period.  I am an active and (not a very skilled) creative person, so there has also been a lot of drawing, sewing, writing and cookie decorating going on.  And, of course, reading my socks off.  I also have a major interest in diversity and inclusion, so have been educating myself on current events and how I can strive to be a better person coming out of lockdown than when I went in.

Q8. What are you most looking forward to after lockdown?

Honestly, I am quite a self-isolating, introverted person anyway – I really struggle with groups and people.  So, ironically, I can’t wait for all the shops, bars and gyms to reopen so that the people currently invading my sanctum of peace in the fields, woodlands and outdoor areas leave and return it to being a place where I don’t see anyone else on my walk.  Also, I make and decorate cookies as a hobby, and I have not been able to get the flour I need since lockdown started due to all the lockdown banana bread and sourdough baking  – so I’ll be grateful for the home baking to slow down so I am able to get the ingredients again for my hobby.  I will be grateful for the reduction of video conferences and screen time – sitting in a room and speaking to someone to have a break from the screen will be bliss for me – I feel like I’ve been surgically attached to my laptop.  Also, I’ve had some new staff start during this period, so meeting them in person will be nice, alongside catching up in person with everyone else – although not too many at a time, I’d find that overwhelming.

Overall, I think this has made me reflect on a lot of things and realised some of the privileges you take for granted – so I think I would like to say I am looking forward to being more grateful for the little things moving forward, which will hopefully make me a better human being.  I am not, however, looking forward to not having my dog as my co-worker everyday.

Clarion would like to thank Ria for taking part in Lockdown Lowdown and would like to thank the OPG for their tireless efforts in trying to improve this area of practice. Coming up in the series, we will be hearing from Lynsey Harrison from Clarion. If you would like to suggest another interviewee for Lockdown Lowdown, please contact Stephanie Kaye at stephanie.kaye@clarionsolicitors.com or call 0113 336 3402.

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