A number of years ago I went into a residential home for a group of women with learning disabilities. Mostly they were in their 60’s but one was in her early 30’s with a range of disabilities but mostly fairly profound including a number of behavioural and health issues. The reason I was there was the previous provider had allowed a vast number of safeguarding issues to happen and the local council had removed their contract, I was there to clean up the mess and get the service where it needed to be. The abuse was horrific but one factor was all of the women there didn’t have their own bank accounts, all their money was in the account of the provider. Each one had several thousand pounds under their name but all went without some basic supplies for life and were given small amounts of money each week, many thousands of pounds had gone missing over the years and into the hands of staff.
This was a clear case of financial abuse, but was made more possible by the fact these women and their families had no control over their money.
I have supported many people to manage their money and it’s always difficult and staff need to tread very carefully around this. One man I supported who used a wheelchair and needed support to go to the bank. There was an agreement with social services and him that we would hold some cash in our safe and give him a daily allowance which he’d spend on cigarettes and vodka. It was doled out that way to prevent him spending all his money, some of which was to pay support staff, so not technically his to spend.
Given the chance he would go and purchase a new stereo every week, which showed he definitely needed guidance. I would take him to the bank once a week. I would get my office key, go into a cabinet with another key, and unlock the key locker with another key to get the safe key, open the safe and then with another key open his tin which held his passport, bank book and cash. Wed go to the bank and get more cash, then I would go in reverse locking everything away safely and making note of how much money he had put in.
One day, his weekend support staff reported he had £400 in his wallet. He came into the office and I asked how he got it as he wasn’t physically able to access the various keys. He refused to tell us and we knew a staff member had to have helped him. We never found out who it was. Maybe that staff felt that, as it was his passport, bankbook and money he was allowed to have it and do what he liked, that he has capacity to choose, which is true. However, many people with disabilities do need guidance and support to not make these potentially very harmful decisions.
I have dealt with many more cases of financial abuse I could detail here from family members, friends and staff but the issue that bothers me in the organisations that control people’s money.
Appointeeship is the legal right to manage another person’s finances and bank accounts. This is not unusual for people with disabilities as often a parent or sibling will do this and it will not be a problem. But like the provider mentioned above others do this as well and encourage people to hand over Appointeeship to them. Often local authorities will do this, some councils like Oxfordshire have a Money Management department that protect people’s money which safeguards it. There have of course been many cases of local authority staff taking money, just recently a staff member embezzled money from the Grenfell Tower funds.
Besides the risk of financial abuse there is a significant issue around people having control over their money. This is one of the key elements of being an independent adult.
I do need to question a provider wanting to control bank accounts rather than support people to manage on their own and there are many people with learning disabilities who can manage on their own with a little support. This could be a way of keeping people within their services and in a world of more choice the individuals are more tied down. Family members need to think long and hard about handing over this responsibility, it may seem like a good option but there’s so much opportunity for misuse and abuse.
As I mentioned, some families are certainly guilty of misappropriating money too but the majority have the best interests of their loved ones in mind. Most providers are also trustworthy but wouldn’t it be better and have less chance of abuse if an external, official body managed money for those who cannot?
I question anyone who feels the need to control another’s bank account, and how much money they get at any time. We should support people to learn to manage and be safe on their own and for those who can’t have a very secure system of their money being managed and protected. If in a relationship someone was controlling their partner’s money and telling them what to buy it would be considered domestic abuse.
Imagine you didn’t control your own bank account and someone chose how much money you got each day or week? You would feel like a child, not what we want for helping adults with learning disabilities to become independent. I am fully aware that many people will need someone to manage their money for them for their entire lives. I’m also aware that many parents need to let go and let their disabled children have freedom but with the right support, informed choice and some safeguards in place most people with disabilities can at least choose how their money is spent and who has input into that.