The parents of up to 200,000 disabled children who must go to court to gain access to frozen child trust fund savings may no longer have to pay fees to do so. This is a partial success for activists.
Families can ask the government to waive or reimburse hundreds of pounds of protective court fees if they need to prove their child is unable to manage their money, the Justice Department announced today.
The government's response represents a small win for This is Money, which reports on the plight of disabled children who have not had access to their own money since late September.
However, activists said they are "keeping the confetti on hold" and that more needs to be done.
The Justice Department said it intends not to pay court fees if families are only seeking access to a child trust fund held by a disabled child
While these children are unable to manage their own savings, parents and guardians cannot manage them for them either unless they apply to the Court of Justice to be proxies.
The government has insisted that child exploitation should be prevented. In many cases, however, parents are already allowed to manage their child's benefits.
This application costs £ 365 and can require up to 47 pages of forms to be completed, while legal fees can increase costs to more than £ 2,500 and delays in the court system mean it can take a year to resolve a child's case.
Parents can already seek help from the government for court fees if they are applying before their child's 18th birthday and their child has savings of £ 3,000 or less and earns less than £ 1,085, or if they are 18 under “exceptional circumstances” will.
However, the Justice Department said parents of children over the age of 18 with child trust funds worth over £ 3,000 would not have to pay any fees provided the trust fund was their only asset.
Requests for waiver or re-examination of fees would be considered on a case-by-case basis and it was intended that no one who had to turn to the Court solely for access to a child trust fund would have to pay fees.
The government confirmed to This is Money that the waiver only applied to court fees and did not cover legal fees.
This is Money reported on the problem Disabled Child Trust Owners and Junior Isas have been facing since late September
While it's good news for parents who may be deterred from the filing process by the prospect of court fees wiping out their child's savings, it doesn't seem to solve the problem of parents having to wait long before their case is heard.
Philip Warford, executive director of Renaissance Legal, a law firm that has been raising awareness of the problem of disabled child trust fund owners and junior Isas for the last four years, the first of which began to mature in September, criticized the announcement.
He said, “This is by no means a form of government understanding of the problems they have caused and the stress and extra work that families will have.
“Families still have to pay for a medical report. Fill out all the same forms. Wait at least six to eight months for a court order. and then committed to the Court of Justice for an annual monitoring fee.
This is by no means a form of government understanding of the problems they are creating, and of the stress and extra work that families will have
Philip Warford, Renaissance Legal
"I think it's a screw cap on something without a soda."
He previously told This is Money that the prospect of up to 200,000 disabled children in the next decade going through a court system that is already lagging behind due to the coronavirus could lead to long waits for families.
David Dalton-Brown, executive director of the Investing and Saving Alliance, which represents child trust fund providers, said fees are "only part of the picture".
He said, "The amount of paperwork required to go to court, the likely additional legal and medical fees, and ultimately the protected time limits for the outcome still make this a stressful process for parents."
But he added, "TISA welcomes the waiver of court fees and looks forward to how they can simplify the process for parents or guardians of children who are mentally deficient to unlock trust funds for children."
The Justice Department also announced that it would set up a working group involving officials from the Treasury and Treasury to see what more could be done to simplify the process for families.
Previous proposals, separately tabled by TISA and the Philip Warford law firm, include providing access to money to parents of mentally retarded children with savings of up to £ 5,000; and extension of the rules that cover children under six months of age to include children with no intellectual capacity.
Mr. Warford added, “The only positive is that there is a working group, or at least we are told that there is one trying to figure out what else can be done.
"Why on earth wasn't the task force set up on the day the problem started?"
Last week we covered the case of Catherine and John and their 17 year old disabled son Oliver after they gained access to his previously frozen funds
The government previously agreed on these proposals, and their inaction has resulted in individual CTF providers having to decide on a case-by-case basis whether parents or guardians of children should have access to the money.
Last week we reported one of the first examples of good news since we reported the problem in late September after a Worcestershire mother unlocked her 17 year old disabled son's Child Trust Fund on his behalf after going through OneFamily .
Asset manager BMO was the second provider to offer to help parents in need when it announced last weekend that it had put in place an exemption procedure to help parents gain access to child trust fund savings if the child is mentally disabled was and was "in their best interests".
However, with no further changes to the law or government guidelines, parents have experienced a lottery based on who their provider is.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk announced the proposals this afternoon, saying: “We want to remove the barriers that families face in helping young people with intellectual disabilities.
“This fee reduction will ensure that families who have to go to court to protect these funds will not suffer financially.
"Our working group will endeavor to improve this process even further to make it more rational and accessible."
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