Victory! Catherine, her husband John and her 17-year-old son Oliver
The mother of a 17-year-old boy with profound learning disabilities who would be unable to access his Child Trust Fund cash when he became an adult has won her battle to unlock more than £2,000 in frozen funds.
In one of the first reported examples of the parents of a disabled child succeeding in an attempt to access their money, Catherine, from Worcestershire, will be able to manage her son Oliver’s funds when he turns 18 next April.
Catherine wrote to her son’s Child Trust Fund provider, OneFamily, at the start of October after the mutual’s savings chief told This is Money parents affected by the CTF lockout should get in touch and their cases would be looked at ‘sensitively and with compassion’.
She fed this quote back to the Brighton-based mutual, which looks after a quarter of CTFs and finally had confirmation at the start of this month she would be able to look after her son’s money when he turns 18, saving her thousands of pounds in court fees.
It is a rare example of a happy outcome to a problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled young children who cannot currently access their own savings due to their disabilities making them unable to manage money and make their own decisions.
The Government and industry bodies are currently in discussions over long-term solutions to the problem, with some individual CTF providers currently deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to allow parents to access the money on their child’s behalf.
Without a solution parents face the prospect of a costly application to the Court of Protection to get permission to become a ‘deputy’ and manage the money on their child’s behalf, eating into the savings and completely wiping them out in some cases.
‘No one ever indicated at any stage that there would be problems accessing Oliver’s money’
Catherine, who only wanted to provide her surname, faced the prospect of this earlier this year when OneFamily wrote to her son Oliver when he turned 17 to tell him his trust fund would mature in 2021.
What’s the problem?
Campaigners warn as many as 200,000 disabled children face the same issue as Oliver, that they are unable to access CTF money because of their lack of mental capacity, due to their disabilities.
While some have been warning about the problems facing the first batch of trust fund teenagers turning 18 this year for years, the issue has only really come to light in the last few months.
In order to access the money, carers, guardians and parents must apply to become a ‘deputy’, which involves an application to the Court of Protection.
The court application can cost £365 plus up to £2,500 in solicitors’ fees.
Campaigners and families have complained this problem was never made clear to parents, who continued to pay money into a savings ‘lobster pot’, that their child could not get the money out of.
This is despite the fact those children on Disability Living Allowance were given extra payments into their trust funds.
The Government has insisted the measures are needed to prevent the children from being exploited.
He had just over £2,000 in his account, she said, thanks to a combination of birthday cash from his grandparents and higher government vouchers due to his ‘profound learning disabilities’.
At this point she began to wonder if there might be a problem accessing the funds, something which the mutual confirmed to her at the start of June.
It told her she needed to apply the Court of Protection to become a deputy in order to access the money on his behalf.
This is despite the fact the Government had handed him more money because of his disabilities and allowed her to manage his benefits when he turned 16.
She told This is Money: ‘No one ever indicated at any stage that there would be problems accessing Oliver’s money.
‘The Government were, at the time, actively encouraging parents and grandparents to add to the CTF for the child’s future.
‘Had we known, or even suspected, that there would be difficulties accessing the funds, we would never have encouraged Oliver’s grandparents to add to it at birthdays.
‘They would have put the money in a different account.’
Having ‘almost given up all will’ at the prospect of tackling the Court of Protection forms, she discovered the story This is Money published at the end of September.
OneFamily’s head of investments had told us in the article that ‘in certain circumstances it may be possible to release funds if sufficient proof of identification can be provided by the person responsible for managing the young person’s finances.’
How a line from a company statement helped me access my child’s frozen funds
‘I phoned OneFamily, quoting their head of investment directly from your article,’ Catherine said when she first contacted us at the start of October.
‘The lady on the phone was very cagey and asked several times where I had read this.
‘She then put me on hold for 20 minutes. When she came back, her tone had changed, and she was very helpful.
‘She asked if I had any supporting evidence such as a doctor’s letter? I burst out laughing; as the parent and carer of a profoundly disabled young person, you have files full of professional letters and reports.’
She sent over a letter with attached documents a day later on 9 October, which were received on 12 October.
However, she never received a reply to confirm OneFamily had received the documents and attempted follow-ups through its online messaging service on 17 and 22 October were also unanswered.
Catherine came across a story This is Money published at end of September highlighting the problem affecting as many as 200,000 disabled children
But after making a formal written complaint about the lack of a response from the mutual on 25 October, she finally received some good news at the start of this month.
In a letter dated 5 November, the letter apologised for the delay in responding to her and said: ‘The information you’ve provided makes it clear Oliver will be unable to manage the closure, and that you can do so instead.
‘I’ve enclosed a declaration document for you along with a return envelope. Please complete and send this to us when you can.
Do you have a OneFamily CTF?
This is Money asked the mutual which looks after one in four CTFs what parents in the same situation as Catherine needed to do.
Its head of investments, Paul Bridgwater, said: ‘Every case is different, but in some circumstances it is possible to release the funds if sufficient proof of identification can be provided by the person responsible for managing the young person’s finances.
‘We aim to review each application sensitively and with compassion, and would encourage all customers who may be in this position to get in touch, so that we can give them all the support that they need.’
‘Upon receipt, we’ll pend the instruction until Oliver’s 18th birthday in April next year.’
Catherine told This is Money she had returned the declaration form which should mean she can access her son’s Child Trust Fund cash without penalty next year.
In response to Catherine’s case, Paul Bridgwater, OneFamily’s head of investments, said: ‘I’m very sorry for the delay Catherine experienced in receiving a response from us. It’s definitely not the service that we aim to give.
‘Unfortunately, our team of specialists who handle enquiries of this nature became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications that were received in October.
‘However, this should not have happened, and we have subsequently increased the size of our team.
‘I can’t comment specifically on Catherine’s case, for confidentiality reasons.
‘However, it became clear to us earlier this year that the child trust fund maturity procedures, as defined by HMRC, would not meet the needs of all of our customers.
‘Therefore, we supported our industry bodies in lobbying the Ministry of Justice for new draft guidance to help families in this position.
‘In the meantime, we chose to adopt a more flexible and customer focused approach, to see if there might be way for customers like Oliver to be able to access their balances without the need of a Court of Protection Order.’
The Ministry of Justice told This is Money at the end of last month that proposals handed to it by TISA, which represents CTF providers, were ‘being considered’ and that it would ‘respond shortly.’