The parents of up to 200,000 disabled children who have to go to court to access the blocked savings of the Child Trust Fund may no longer have to pay fees, in a partial victory for campaigners.
Families can ask the government to waive fees from the Court of Protection or pay refunds of hundreds of pounds in cases where they need to prove their child is incapable of handling their money, the Justice Department announced today On.
The government’s response is a small victory for This is Money, which has reported on the plight of handicapped children who have lost access to their own money since late September.
However, campaigners said they were ‘keeping the confetti on ice’ and more needs to be done.
The Justice Department said it was intended that no court fees would be paid in cases where families were only seeking access to a Child Trust Fund from a disabled child
While these children do not have the capacity to manage their own savings, parents and guardians cannot manage it for them, unless they apply to the Court of Protection to become deputies.
The government has pushed to prevent children from being exploited, but in many cases, parents are already allowed to manage their child’s benefits.
This application costs £ 365 and can require the completion of up to 47 pages of forms, while attorney fees can add up to over £ 2,500 and delays in the legal system mean it can take a year for a child’s case to be resolved.
Parents can already ask the government for help with court costs if they apply before their child’s 18th birthday and their child has £ 3,000 or less in savings and earns less than £ 1,085, or after turning 18 in ‘exceptional circumstances’ .
But the Justice Department said parents of children over 18 with Child Trust Funds worth more than £ 3,000 will not have to pay fees, provided the trust fund is their only property.
It said that applications for remission or reconsideration of fees would be retroactively reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and that it was intended that no one alone would have to apply to the Court of Protection to access any Child Trust Fund fees Pay.
This is Money has asked for clarification as to whether this fee waiver applies only to the court’s own fees or whether the government would also cover attorney’s fees.
This is Money has been reporting since the end of September on the problem faced by disabled holders of Child Trust Funds and Junior Isas
While it is good news for parents who may delay the application process due to the prospect of court fees wiping out their child’s savings, it does not seem to solve the problem of having to wait a long time for parents to hear their case.
Philip Warford, general manager of Renaissance Legal, a law firm that has been raising awareness over the past four years of the problem faced by disabled holders of Child Trust Funds and Junior Isas, the first of which came of age in September, criticized the announcement.
He said: ‘This is by no means any kind of understanding by the government of the problems they have created and what stress and extra work families will have.
‘Families will still have to pay for medical advice; all fill in the same forms; wait at least six to eight months for a court order; and are subsequently due to the Court of Protection in respect of an annual supervisory fee.
This is by no means any kind of understanding by the government of the problems they have caused and of the stress and extra work for families
Philip Warford, Renaissance Legal
“I think it’s a screw cap on something without any fizzing.”
He previously told This is Money that the prospect of as many as 200,000 disabled children going through a court who are already behind due to the coronavirus for the next decade could result in long waiting times for families.
The Justice Department also announced that it would set up a working group of officials and the Treasury to explore what more could be done to make the process easier for families.
Previous proposals by representatives of CTF providers and campaigners include granting access to the money to parents of mentally retarded children with savings of up to £ 5,000; and extending the rules for children who have less than six months to live to include children without mental capacity.
Mr Warford added: ‘The only positive thing is that there is a working group, or at least we are told there is, to see what more can be done.
“Why on earth wasn’t the working group formed the day the problem started?”
The government has sat on these proposals before, and its passivity meant that individual CTF providers had to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis whether to give the parents or guardians of children access to the money.
Last week, we reported on the case of Catherine and John and their 17-year-old disabled son Oliver, after gaining access to his previously frozen assets
Last week, we reported on one of the first examples of good news since we started reporting on the problem in late September, after a mother in Worcestershire on his behalf unlocked the Child Trust Fund of her 17-year-old disabled son after going through the provider OneFamily had gone .
The asset manager BMO became the second provider to provide assistance to stubborn parents when it announced last weekend that it had “ passed an exemption procedure to help parents access’ Child Trust Fund savings in cases where the child was mentally retarded and it was ‘in their best interest’.
But without wider changes to the law or to government guidelines, parents have faced a lottery because of who their provider is.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk announced the proposals this afternoon: “We want to reduce the obstacles families face in supporting young people with intellectual disabilities.
This compensation will ensure that families who have to go to the Court of Protection to access these funds will not suffer financially.
‘Our working group will look to further improve this process, to make it more streamlined and accessible.’
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