For many people with a learning disability, the prospect of opening a bank account and managing a budget is daunting. But the banking system is becoming a more welcoming place
Traditionally, people with a learning disability have faced barriers to taking control of their own money. Issues around perceived lack of capability, financial jargon, appropriate identification and fear of financial abuse and debt have all prevented vulnerable people from opening even a basic bank account.
Many people with a learning disability have trouble managing their money, because they haven’t done it before and have never been taught. Nithee Kotecha is a youth worker for Inspire Me – a Mencap project that works with young people with a learning disability through their transition into adulthood. She delivers training sessions to help the young people with practical life skills, including financial ones.
In the West Midlands – Nithee’s region – she has delivered a workshop on managing money to more than 100 young people over the last year. “It’s essential that young people get as much support with their money and understanding of it as possible at a young age,” says Nithee, “because it’s going to help them in the future.”
Of the groups that she has worked with, Nithee says that most don’t have a great understanding of money, even by the age of 18. “With some who have a higher ability, they might understand the concept of money, but don’t really appreciate its importance in a day-to-day scenario.”
To address this, Nithee works with the young people to identify their spending patterns and what they spend their money on. “We get them to understand the difference between essential and non-essential items,” explains Nithee. “A lot of them think of things like chocolate and DVDs as essential items, but we try to work with them to realise that essential items are things like basic food and bus fares.”
Regular exposure to money and simple transactions is key, believes Nithee. One person she has supported hated going to the shop to buy things. “I asked why he struggles with that, and he said ‘because I never know if I’ve got the right money or not – if I don’t, I get embarrassed’. So it’s the social aspect of money that he found hard.”
Opening a bank account
Increasingly, people with a learning disability need their own bank account. Although the rates are still low, more people are finding paid employment and increasing numbers are using direct payments from a personal budget to pay for their services.
According to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, 98% of councils hope to meet the target to provide everyone who uses a care service with a personal budget by April 2013. As of last April, 35% had a personal budget, with a third of those taking their budget as a direct payment.
However, one of the most common barriers to people with a learning disability having control of their finances is the difficulty they face in setting up a bank account. Many have never been into a bank or are put off by having to fill in an inaccessible form. Often, a parent or supporter will have handled a person’s money, because it was felt that their vulnerability could leave them open to financial abuse or debt.
Nithee cites examples where people have got into debt with catalogue companies or because they have failed to fully understand the implications of using credit cards. There are also cases of ‘mate crime’, in which people with a learning disability are befriended, before being coerced into giving their money to or buying items for the abuser.
While these cases must be kept in mind, and an eye kept on particularly vulnerable people, Nithee believes that giving people with a learning disability access to their own money is generally a positive move. “The few who do have their own bank account seem very confident with money,” she says.