Paola’s Story

My phone rings and I notice its my father, he never rings as he struggles to hear on the phone. I answer it and can’t believe what he is saying is happening. ‘Its your mother, she is kicking off again but this time she is throwing furniture around the house, and I don’t know what to do!’

I was on holiday, me and my family had travelled to Portugal for a well-deserved break. I had noticed recently that my father had marks on his hands and wrists, but he would never tell me how they came about. The carer had mentioned that he had found my father pushing my mother up the stairs from behind using his head whilst holding onto the stair rail. He had recently purchased another car, so soon after his other car was removed from the drive due to his doctor not allowing him to renew his driving licence. It was only a short while ago a taxi driver returned my mother home from shopping as she was found wandering around blankly and without purpose, a trip she did every week but now seemed to be struggling with.

‘Please Help me and come home’ my father exclaimed.

There was nothing I could do; I was sat on a beach with my family but had never felt so alone. My partners parents were both very healthy, but my father had Vascular Dementia and my mother had Alzheimer’s. Sometimes you would never guess that they were both suffering from a degenerative brain condition but other times it was apparent.

When I arrived back in the UK, I found out my mother had been taken away by the Police due to the risk she posed towards my father, she was being held at Millbrook in Mansfield under a section 2 order, meaning she would not be released until the medical professionals were confidant that her medication was working to suppress her anger. My father didn’t understand why she wasn’t coming home.

My mother never returned home, and she still resides in the most wonderful nursing home I have known, she has been a resident at Skylarks for over 7 years. Nowadays, I think she recognises me, but I am never sure, she doesn’t move much and spends most of her days sleeping and being fed.

My father was admitted to a care home a month before the Pandemic, he caught Covid and never returned to full health. Often when I was visiting him through his bedroom window would I notice other residents being removed by van, they had not been as lucky as my father and had perished due to Covid. My father peacefully passed away recently and has been laid to rest in his hometown of Nottingham.

You see, my father was born in Italy and my mother was born in Belgium, they met when they were children as my mother use to visit my fathers’ neighbours. They married young, gave away the family farm in Tremignon and moved to the UK to work. My father never stopped working nor did my mother, they were proud and wouldn’t accept any financial assistance from anyone. It was their belief that as parents you are to take care of your family, both financially and educationally.

But parallel to this I had to come to terms with the Court of Protection, an alien, intrusive, time-consuming, and costly institution, which was completely out of tune with what I was going through. I had previously sought an order to act as the Deputy for both my parents as advised by Social Services, this gave me the power to receive their money into an account in the names of myself, my brother, and each parent. It gave me the power to sell the family home and purchase another or to use the proceeds of sale to pay for any care needs.

A Deputy can be a close family member or – where there is no suitable relative – a stranger or an organisation, such as a solicitors’ office. But in its treatment of Deputies, the court does not distinguish between a close family member and a virtual stranger.

Who is the court protecting and from whom? As the weeks and months went by it became clear that the Court of Protection’s primary role was to protect my parents from me and my brother. I was doing all I could to look after my parents and to keep our lives in order. The Court was doing everything possible to place itself like a wedge between them and us, to protect itself from any accusations of wrongdoing.

To perform this unwanted task, the unwieldy organisation stepped into my life and took away my adult independence. The tone of the letters and the restrictions on how much and in what their money could be spent undermined my freedom and self-respect. And if I did not do everything I was told to do, I could lose the right to be the Deputy. An unknown person could step in and take over their accounts and the running of their lives.

Here are just a few examples of how the Court acted under the guise of “protecting” my parents.

Every year, the Office of the Public Guardian expected me to upload a financial return of ALL money spent from my parent’s accounts, how much energy has been used, what money do they hold in savings, who insures the house and how much does it cost, what’s spending money, how much have they given their grandchildren for birthday presents. Have they paid for any family meals, anything above £250 needs to be separately noted, what about the cash we use to give my father the belief he has money still, what care decisions have we made, who cares for him, the meals that are delivered, how much do they cost and who provides them? The reporting was endless and stressful, they wanted us to pay a Deputy Fee, a Deputy Bond. We must submit ‘returns’ every year, how do you place a cost on supporting your parents with their own money to lead as normal a life as possible whilst at the same time not knowing how much time you have left with your parents on this earth.

If I employed an accountant, they would charge in the region of £3000, if I felt the pressure was too much, I was informed that I could remove myself as a Deputy and employ the services of a professional at a cost to my parents.

As my parents Deputy I now had access to their accounts. But I was dismayed by the restrictions on my spending. I could write as many cheques as necessary up to £250. But if I needed access to more than that at any one time, I had to get permission from the Court or at the very least have a good reason to offer the court when I made those annual returns.

The nerve-racking experience was exacerbated by the fact that each time I phoned the Court, I spoke to a different clerk. I had to explain my distressing situation anew and then wait at least two weeks for a reply. I visited my parents daily. The court also sent a representative to visit him. I found it humiliating. I was dealing with doctors, nurses, and carers daily, yet I could not help feeling that I was the one being checked up on.

The Court of Protection, no doubt, has a part to play in the life of someone with no close family or friends, who is at the mercy of strangers. But in my case, it was an interfering, terrifying body using legal forms and archaic language to protect itself at huge cost.

After almost five years, my father died. When I eventually received probate, I cried with grief. A few months later, when I finally closed the Deputy account, and my independence and self-respect returned, I cried with joy. At last, I was partially free.

I continue to submit my mother’s accounts and operate under her Court Order, its easier now as she can’t do much for herself and doesn’t really have a life anyway, I doubt she will be with me for much longer.

Yet all this could have been avoided – if only I’d known how.

I miss my weekly get together with my mother and I miss my father’s singing.

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