Keeping account whilst helping the vulnerable or being helped

18 March 2020

The Government has issued advice that all those persons over 70, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions should self-isolate for a period of 12 weeks to protect them from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Undoubtedly on an unprecedented level people will be relying upon friends, family and neighbours to keep their homes stocked with food, household essentials and vital medication. The period of time that people are being asked to self-isolate is significant, so reliance on others is likely to be for a considerable amount of time, rather than a one off as is the case in bad weather. As a result, the sums of money involved are likely to be considerable.

Whilst in the vast majority of cases this help will be provided or received without issue, in a small number of cases there will be an increased risk of financial abuse or accusations of the same. So how do people protect themselves on both sides of self-isolation?

It is advisable to follow similar guidelines as those set out for people appointed as deputies under a  power of attorney with regards to property and financial affairs, as below.    

  • Receipts – if you are making any purchase for someone be it shopping, medication or similar, always ask for a copy of the receipt which should be itemised as is generally the case with all major retailers. Consider one person keeping the physical receipt and the other storing a photo of the receipt on their mobile phone. 
  • Reimbursement – irrespective of the method of payment, keep a record of payments received and given with details so that in six months’ time, you will remember what it was for.
  • Gifts – it is quite probable that those being helped may wish to express their gratitude for someone’s help. Whilst gifts do not necessarily have to be declined, care should be taken to ensure they are reasonable. For example a small token such as chocolates, flowers etc. on an irregular basis is likely to be reasonable. Bigger gifts, including money and expensive items may, depending on the circumstances, be deemed not to be reasonable especially where there is doubt over a person’s capacity or they are considered vulnerable. As above, always keep a record of the gift and the date it was received. 
  • Services – if you agree to engage the services for someone on their behalf, for example a window cleaner or gardener, ensure that all parties understand who the service is for and who will be responsible for payment. Again, keeping a record of the discussions is important.    

We wish everyone the very best at this difficult time and hope that these guidelines will give you some peace of mind when helping others or being helped.

To contact a professional regarding the above matters, get in touch with Birketts’ extensive and experienced Private Client team. Alternatively, if you would like to raise a dispute regarding a will, please contact our Contentious Trust and Probate Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2020.