A specialist community interest company (CIC), set up by a solicitor in Cardiff, has been awarded National Lottery funding for a pilot scheme to provide free advice to families needing to apply to the Court of Protection to access child trust funds.
Tom Evans, director of Qualia Law, said he believed the new service was the only one in the UK to offer families free legal advice to access their trusts where children lacked mental capacity.
Qualia Law, set up in 2021, the UK’s first non-profit company providing Court of Protection deputyship by qualified solicitors. It is not a regulated law firm but under Solicitors Regulation Authority rules its solicitors can still practise.
Three charities provided core funding to help Mr Evans set up Qualia Law – the National Lottery Community Fund, the Charities Aid Foundation and social enterprise funder UnLtd.
However, a majority of the funding comes from his paid work acting as a professional deputy.
Child trust funds are tax-free savings accounts designed for children born between 1 September 2002 and 2 January 2011. Funds cannot be withdrawn until children reach the age of 18. If they lack capacity, families must obtain authority to access the money under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Mr Evans said the cost of legal advice meant that many parents were “essentially doing the work themselves” and might not be aware of “all the options”.
They generally needed to apply to the Court of Protection and become deputies to access the funds, but some cases it was possible to get a court order without becoming a deputy.
Mr Evans described applications to the Court of Protection as “complex and costly”, including lengthy forms and medical documentation.
“As a result, families often face burdensome and expensive procedures before they can access their child’s funds, discouraging many from pursuing the application, particularly when the amount is small.”
A lack of adequate advice before or during the application could in turn lead to “errors in the application and significant delays”.
The solicitor said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had recently consulted on whether to change the process for parents needing to access funds.
Instead of changing the process, Mr Evans said the MoJ simplified it and put it online, but there was still “a lot of uncertainty” for parents.
He said the National Lottery Community Fund had provided funding for a year-long pilot scheme to give parents free advice.
Since the scheme began last week, Mr Evans said he had already received enquiries from charities such as MENCAP.
The other directors of Qualia are Hannah Davies, a qualified mental health nurse and the firm’s community engagement manager, and chief technology officer Dr Lorenz Berger, an IT entrepreneur.
Mr Evans said Qualia planned to appoint another solicitor by the end of the year, who will join a full-time paralegal and a law student.
As well as providing free legal advice, the CIC runs free training sessions for social care and third sector professionals, such as social workers or advocates, to raise awareness about financial abuse and the options available to vulnerable people.