A new guide has been launched to help parents and carers better understand their rights and how to manage the finances of disabled young people should they lose the capacity to make decisions for themselves.
The government published consultation published in February which found many parents were unaware of the steps they have to take to be able to make financial decisions on behalf of their child as they transition into adulthood.
This comes after reports earlier this year suggested as many as 80,000 young people’s assets could be “locked” in their Child Trust Funds due to the “length and expensive” Court of Protection Process, with suggestions that by 2029 there could be up to £210 million out of reach for families.
Indeed, a recent report from BBC Breakfast revealed some children will lose access to Universal Credit and means-tested benefits because they have over £6,000 in a savings account.
“He’s penalised […] He won’t be able to get the full amount of benefits he’s entitled to because he’s got money he can’t access. The whole system feels so wrong,” said the mother of one child in this situation.
OneFamily, a provider of Child Trust Funds, have helped release over £3.6 million from around 1,000 accounts belonging to children who lack capacity. They say their work is within the spirit of the Mental Capacity Act.
“We don’t feel we’re breaking the law by [helping them to access these accounts]. In most of these cases, the family are already receiving some sort of benefit from the government. If you just follow that paper trail, there is an established link between the parent looking after the young adult, and the owner of the money,” said OneFamily.
Savings within Child Trust Funds and Junior ISAs frequently help families provide care for children or be used to buy specialist equipment to support their needs.
The government said the new guide marks the first step in their pledge to raise awareness of the law to support families, providing the information they need in an easily accessible format so they can access funds quicker.
“Parents who care for their disabled children face huge challenges every day and we understand the frustration they’ve often experienced when trying to access their savings,” said Justice Minister Mike Freer:
“Raising awareness of the Mental Capacity Act is a vital part of supporting families, so they better understand the important and necessary steps they need to take when their loved one loses capacity – easing their child’s transition into adulthood while protecting their finances from fraud.”
Banks, financial services, schools and disability charities will also be able to use the toolkit to better support families and guardians in understanding how the Mental Capacity Act works, and when and how they should apply for legal powers to access their child’s funds.
The guide has been developed with the support of parents, carers and charities to increase the understanding of the Mental Capacity Act, including:
- Changes in decision-making responsibility when a young person who lacks mental capacity transitions into adulthood
- The relevant route to make financial decisions on behalf of a young person
- How to prepare to make financial decisions for when a person turns 18
Alex Ruck Keene QC, a Barrister specialising in mental capacity, said:
“I am very pleased to see that the commitment given by the Ministry of Justice in its response to the Small Payments Scheme consultation that it would continue to work to develop guidance and information to raise awareness of the Mental Capacity Act has borne fruit in this toolkit.
Awareness-raising and education is a never-ending task, but it is extremely helpful to have up-to-date and practical materials to assist families – in particular – navigate the requirements of the Act to keep the focus on the needs of those with impaired decision-making capacity.”
Lorraine Currie, Freelance Mental Capacity Consultant and supporter of a family member with a disability, said:
“I’m really glad to see this publication, helping to explain the MCA across the ages from 16 to 18 in particular. Everyone needs to know how the rules change as children get older and what plans can be made to help navigate this. This booklet is a good start.”