The Friendly Trust is a voluntary, not-for-profit organisation which operates in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan to give advice and assistance to people with learning disabilities, their parents, other family members and carers, in the management of current assets and future inherited resources.
It took several years for the germ of an idea, discussed by a few parents in a pub one night, to come to fruition as the Friendly Trust. The parents were concerned about the future of their sons and daughters when they would no longer be there to take care of them. They couldn’t see a way to leave estates and have confidence that their relative would receive the best care and/or support and advice possible. They discovered that other parents and care/support professionals had concerns about the legality and appropriateness of service agencies having the responsibility for managing the finances of individuals in their care.
A working party was set up in 1996 and undertook a feasibility study the following year. A part-time secondment post, secured from Cardiff Council, was used to expand on the findings of the feasibility study, to see what further steps were needed to make the dream a reality, and to identify the main areas of potential work. Cardiff Council then provided core funding for a period of three years. Some areas of the Trust’s service would be free advice and assistance; there would be a small fee to cover costs in those areas requiring actual financial management of an individual’s finances.
The Friendly Trust became a company limited by guarantee in July 1998, and a full-time coordinator was appointed for a ‘pilot project year’ that September. There is a board of five unpaid directors–a parent and professionals with expertise and interests relevant to the work of the Trust. Non-director members provide additional support. Charitable status has not been sought so far–application would not be straightforward because some of the organisation’s work involves the handling of individuals’ money and may be fee-based.
As it grows, the Friendly Trust hopes to provide financial advice and assistance to people with learning disabilities, their families and other carers in the following areas:
- The preparation of wills and the establishment of discretionary trusts.
- Management of the financial affairs of individuals subject to the Court of Protection. In Wales and England, if an individual (having savings above £5000) is considered not to have the mental capacity to look after his/her own financial affairs, a ‘receiver’ (usually a relative or solicitor) has to be appointed to do this for him/her.
- Appointeeship, in the case of persons who do not sign for or manage their own social security benefits. This can offer individuals with a learning disability a service option independent of the organisation which funds or directly provides their care.
- Welfare rights and financial advice to protect an individual against avoidable loss of benefits.
- Advice/assistance on financial matters to those working in learning disability services, and information for voluntary and statutory agencies on the impact of public policies.
During the pilot year, the Friendly Trust initially concentrated on establishing a network of solicitors with relevant expertise in drafting wills with discretionary trusts. Free initial advice and assistance was given to parents (and some persons with learning difficulties who had the required capacity to make a will themselves) so that they could contact the solicitor of their choice. Transfer of the family home was also researched.
With the closure of long-stay hospitals in South Wales, some former residents have considerable savings and no close relative to assume the role of receiver for the Court of Protection. In this circumstance, clients’ monies are looked after by people directly providing for their care–which may give rise to a conflict of interest. No voluntary organisation has taken on the role of receiver before and much time has been spent negotiating with the Court of Protection and its administrative arm, the Public Trust Office (both of whom have been the subject of recent reports showing general inefficiencies.) The Friendly Trust was also asked to review the financial management of clients’ personal monies in the Adult Placement Service, where people with learning disabilities live in family homes.
Most voluntary organisations experience difficulty in funding, and the Friendly Trust is no exception. The Trust’s first bid to the UK National Lottery Board for funding was unsuccessful, and a second application has been made. Slow proceedings with the Court of Protection have meant that the Trust is not yet able to realise a potential source of income, when acting as a receiver. For the present, the Trust relies on its initial core funding. At the end of the first project year, a new a part-time coordinator was appointed to continue to offer advice and assistance on wills and trusts. The first application has been made to the Court of Protection to act as receiver on behalf of a client with learning disabilities and there is interest in the organisation’s acting as a trustee for a trust fund and as an appointee to another client.
This innovative project has elicited a great deal of interest, locally and nationally. Requests for advice and assistance are received from parents, carers, siblings, advocates, social workers and support workers. Although new ground is never broken easily, it is evident to everyone that there is a need for an independent and accountable organisation to advocate for and uphold the financial rights of people with learning disabilities.