On Thursday 11 February 2021 the Child Trust Fund Access campaign was once again raised in the House of Lords.
Lord Young of Cookham posed the question on access to Child Trust Funds for those with learning disabilities and asked what the Government has done since the working group was announced in December.
We are delighted to have the support of Lord Young and Rt Hon Lord Blunkett, who are supporting the campaign and adding their voice to the growing number of individuals and organisations who are calling for the Government to remove the layers of bureaucracy that mean families with a disabled child must apply to the Court to access their own savings.
Rt Hon Lord Blunkett and Lord Young of Cookham statement:
Twenty years ago, the Child Trust Fund scheme was established by a Labour government to ensure that every child born in the UK would have a dedicated set of savings protected for their future. However, since the first funds started to mature in September 2020 we have seen the emergence of an uneven playing field where families of those children who do not have the mental capacity to access their own money when they turn 18 must apply to the Court of Protection to do so.
As the media has reported, there could be as many as 200,000 children facing a scenario where they are ‘locked out’ of their Child Trust Fund because they do not have the mental capacity to access their own savings. This leaves families with the very real problem of whether they endure the process of applying to the Court, which involves a number of lengthy and complex forms, or let the fund lay unclaimed and their child never access funds that could make a real difference to their lives.
We are living in pressured times. We can all agree that families with a disabled child are under more pressure than most.
A campaign has been gathering momentum, which has culminated in the Ministry of Justice announcing a modification to the process in respect of waiving Court fees. However, it is clear that these changes do not go nearly far enough in removing the obstacles that families with a disabled child will have to overcome in order to access their child’s savings.
The current, recently modified rules, mean that parents should apply to Court of Protection when the child turns 16. By doing this they avoid paying the Court fee due to the funds being valued at zero as they have not matured. Exploiting this loophole to remove the Court fee, instead means that parents could be required to become full financial deputies for 2 years or more to be able to access the savings when the child turns 18. Parents who have already applied to the Court are being asked to re-apply. The Court process (involving a witness statement and 55 data entry pages across 10 different forms) is an extremely heavy-handed way to remove relatively small amounts invested in Child Trust Funds and fails to address the fact that parents need to get a medical opinion (which usually costs anywhere from £50 to £400), and that annual supervision fees and a Deputy Bond fee will also apply.
Of deep concern is the number of families who would find this mountain too much climb and therefore to jump through the necessary hoops required by what is clearly an unnecessarily heavy-handed process. This will result in thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of disabled and vulnerable young people not ever benefitting from money that was saved for their future.
Campaigners who have been calling for reform since 2016 have estimated that if one in four parents give up trying to help their child access their savings because they perceive that the effort involved is disproportionate to the value of their savings, disabled young people will collectively lose as much as £107m over the next ten years. This is money that will be locked away in individual accounts forever.
In December 2020, it was announced that a new working group was being formed to address this issue and would involve a range of government departments and other relevant organisations. No timetable was established for it to report by and, nearly two months on, there has been no evidence of this group having been formed and a concerning silence surrounding progress.
The issue of disabled children being able to access savings that parents, supported by government, have made for their future is not about politics, it’s about fairness.
What is needed now is a firm commitment to design a new solution that will make it as easy as possible for families in order to avoid a catastrophic loss of benefit to these young people.
Bureaucracy should never come before justice, not least for those who, for obvious reasons, are unable to raise their voices and campaign for themselves.