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Disabled children turning 18 from this this September may not be able to access the money saved in their Child Trust Funds

20.07.20

The first children in the UK to receive a Child Trust Fund will be 18 on the 1st September 2020, and experts at Renaissance Legal are warning that this – coupled with the impact Covid-19 is having on the Court of Protection – will cause a ‘perfect storm’ of issues whereby thousands of young adults with disabilities may not be able to access their money going forward.

All children in the UK born between 1st September 2002 and 2nd January 2011 were given funds to open a Child Trust Fund. The aim of the scheme was to ensure that all children had some savings in place when they reached the age of 18. However, the funds can only be accessed by the child when they are 18 if they have the ability to understand and sign the documents that are required to access the money.

One of the thousands of children impacted is Mikey who has a rare, life-limiting condition. He turns 18 in September and will not be able to access the money in his Child Trust Fund for equipment he needs.

His father, Andrew, said:

“Our son, Mikey, turns 18 on 25th September. He has a life-limiting condition which is neurodegenerative. We started saving money in his Child Trust Fund before we were aware that accessing it in the future would be a problem. We were encouraged and incentivised by the government to invest in a Child Trust Fund.

We are in a position where we want to use the money in the Child Trust Fund to purchase equipment and fund life experiences for Mikey, however, we cannot access the funds without applying to the Court of Protection which will take many months. Our time with Mikey is precious and we should not be having to spend time on this type of legal activity just to access money that ultimately belongs to Mikey”.

In 2016, Renaissance Legal launched a campaign to highlight the critical problem this poses for some disabled children as, for those that do not have the mental capacity to manage their finances when they turn 18, their families and carers will need to apply to the Court of Protection to act as the child’s Deputy to be able to access the money.

This process of applying to the Court of Protection costs £365, an amount which may actually exceed the amount held in the Child Trust Fund. Aside from the cost of the application, there is also the risk of delays as a result of a backlog of cases due to Covid-19. It understood that the Court of Protection has prioritised applications relating to health and welfare during the pandemic, and that there is a backlog of finance-related applications to process. These delays will in turn impact any family needing to make an application for deputyship to access their child’s Child Trust Fund savings. The first tranche of children will turn 18 on September 1st, and every day thereafter there is a young adult with a disability who potentially cannot access their own money.

Katherine Miller, Director at Renaissance Legal, said:

“When we launched this campaign, we were sure that it was an issue that would impact many. We have since spoken to families from all over the country and it is clear that from 1st September it’s an issue that is going to impact thousands of families.  This is a critical time for parents of disabled and vulnerable children who are turning 18 and we are urging them to review their situation and take action now”.

Renaissance Legal has spoken to many families whose children have a Child Trust Fund and do not have the mental capacity to access their money, and so will be trapped as their child will not be able to take the necessary steps to release it. A survey undertaken in 2017 indicated that 87% of families did not believe their disabled child would be able to access money held within their Child Trust Fund once they turn 18, with a further 90% unsure of how to access the money on behalf of their child.

Additionally, there are over 3,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change, and hundreds of parents have shared their feelings:

“It’s outrageous to discriminate against these young people and their families in this way! Why should they endure an expensive fight to access their own money?”

“I consider it discriminatory that parents of disabled children will need to pay hundreds of pounds to access their child’s CTF on their behalf”.

“As parent carers we cannot afford to pay £400 to get power of attorney to access funds for our disabled kids”.

The same issue of accessing savings for disabled children extends beyond Child Trust Funds, says Katherine Miller:

“Junior Individual Savings Accounts (JISAs) were launched on 1 November 2011 to replace Child Trust Funds. However, the issue of mental capacity still applies and a child who turns 18 will only be able to access their savings if they have the understanding and ability to complete and sign the relevant documents. For JISAs, this is the same whether they were opened separately or transferred from a previous Child Trust Fund. Many families, particularly those keen to maximise their child’s savings potential, may have opened a JISA without ever having been told that accessing the money may not be straightforward in the future. Thousands of families simply do not know this is the case and, as with Child Trust Funds from this September onwards, will have a nasty shock when their child turns 18”.

What should parents do immediately?

Renaissance Legal are urging families not to delay taking action. If parents don’t know which provider holds the Child Trust Fund then they can check with HM Revenue & Customs by logging in or registering on their Government Gateway.

The Child Trust Fund provider will have their own requirements for releasing or managing the funds and we suggest contacting the provider directly to get all of the details. The same process applies to any JISAs.

Further information about the campaign can be accessed here: https://www.renaissancelegal.co.uk/child-trust-fund-access/

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