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Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS A PERSONAL INJURY TRUST?

A personal injury trust is a legal arrangement whereby trustees hold a personal injury award for a beneficiary, to ensure that the beneficiary:

  • retains their entitlement to means-tested benefits, and/or
  • minimises their contribution towards the costs of ‘community care support’ provided by their local authority social services department.

This is because regulations state that personal injury awards held in this way are to be disregarded when assessing entitlement to these benefits and contributions towards residential community care costs. (See below regarding domiciliary care costs, i.e. in respect of care provided in your own home).

ESTABLISHING WHETHER A TRUST IS REQUIRED

What is community care support?

Community care means providing the right level of intervention and support to enable people with health problems and disabilities to achieve maximum independence and control over their own lives.

Following a ‘needs assessment’ by your local authority social services department, this can be the provision of a carer, or ‘direct payments’ to enable you to employ a private carer. It can be adaptations to your home, or the provision of supported accommodation.

This is not an exhaustive list. Our benefits and trusts department is happy to provide advice about whether something else amounts to community care support.

Which benefits are means-tested?

For people aged under pension age, means-tested benefits are: Income Support, income-based JSA, income- related ESA, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. From April 2013, there also began a phased introduction of Universal Credit, which is to replace means tested benefits and tax credits for people aged under pension age.

The means-tested benefits for people aged over pension age are: Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit), Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support.

NB. The rules outlined in regulations in respect of how personal injury payments are treated when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits are different for pensioners – see below.

Tax credits are means-tested in a different way to other benefits – see below.

Do I need to become the beneficiary of a personal injury trust?

If you are:

  • below pension age and in receipt of means-tested benefits, or
  • any age and in receipt of community care support, or
  • likely to fall into either of these groups imminently,

it may be advisable for you to set up a personal injury trust.

Why?

Entitlement to means-tested benefits is assessed with entitlement to the claimant’s income and capital, and that of their partner (if they have one). It is not affected by any capital their children have.

In contrast, the level of a community care recipient’s contributions towards the cost of the community care support provided by the local authority is only assessed with reference to the recipient’s own income and capital, i.e. their partner’s ‘means’ are not taken into account.

Your interim payment or final settlement in respect of your personal injury case is a type of capital, and it may therefore lead to your means-tested benefits reducing or stopping. It may also lead to your contributions towards the cost of your community care support increasing.
This depends upon the level of the payment you are about to receive in respect of your personal injury, what other ‘capital’ you have, and whether this is the first payment the defendant in your personal injury claim has made to you, or on your behalf, for example to meet medical costs.

People aged above pension age and tax credit claimants do not necessarily need to set up a personal injury trust to prevent their personal injury payment affecting their entitlement to these benefits / tax credits, although they may still want to for peace of mind. (See below).
How does capital generally affect entitlement to means-tested benefits?

A claimant’s capital is usually simply the amount in their bank/building society account(s), but it can also include any property they own other than their main home, and certain other assets and investments. Our benefits and trusts department is happy to provide advice about what else counts as capital.

The general capital rules for means-tested benefit claimants aged below pension age

1. The first £6,000 that the claimant has (and their partner, if they have one) is disregarded, whatever its source.

2. For pre-Universal Credit claims, any capital they have between £6,000 and £16,000 is treated as generating ‘tariff income’ of £1 per week on every £250 (or part thereof) above the £6,000 level, and their ‘income’ means-tested benefit (i.e. Income Support, income-based JSA or income-related ESA) is reduced by a corresponding amount.

If they retain any entitlement to their ‘income’ means-tested benefit after tariff income has been applied, they continue to be ‘passported’ to full Housing and Council Tax Support. However, if tariff income negates their means-tested income benefit, tariff income is then applied to their Housing and Council Tax Support assessment, thus reducing these benefits as well.

3. Once such claims are transferred onto Universal Credit, the claimant will receive one monthly payment that they need to meet their overheads out of, including rent. That monthly payment will be reduced by tariff income if they have capital between £6,000 and £16,000 at an equivalent rate to that outlined above (£4.35 per month).

If they retain any entitlement to Universal Credit after tariff income has been applied, they will continue to be ‘passported’ to full Council Tax Support. However, if tariff income negates their Universal Credit, tariff income will then be applied to their Council Tax Support assessment, thus reducing that as well.

4. If they have capital in excess of £16,000, the claimant is not entitled to means-tested benefits.

The general capital rules for means-tested benefit claimants aged over pension age

1. The first £10,000 that the claimant has (and their partner, if they have one) is disregarded, whatever its source.
2. Any capital they have over £10,000 is treated as generating ‘deemed income’ of £1 per week on every £500 (or part thereof) above the £10,000 level, and their ‘income’ means-tested benefit (i.e. Guarantee Pension Credit) is reduced by a corresponding amount.

Again, if they retain any entitlement to Guarantee Pension Credit after deemed income has been applied, they continue to be ‘passported’ to full Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. However, if tariff income negates their Guarantee Pension Credit, deemed income is then applied to their Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support assessment, thus reducing these benefits as well.
How does capital generally affect entitlement to tax credits?

Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are not affected by capital per se. However, they are affected by actual taxable income generated by capital.

Tax credits are assessed with reference to annual income. The first £300 of taxable income generated by capital is disregarded each year. Any remainder is then included in the claimant’s overall income when assessing entitlement, leading to a tapered reduction in the tax credit award.

It should also be noted that Universal Credit has started to replace tax credits, with a phased introduction for new claimants from April 2013. Existing tax credit claimants will have their claims transferred onto Universal Credit from April 2014 onwards.

The relevant capital rules for Universal Credit are the same as those for means-tested benefits, i.e. capital itself will be taken into account when assessing entitlement, subject to the lower capital limit of £6,000, the upper capital limit of £16,000, and the application of tariff income in respect of capital between these levels.

The fifty-two week rule and the personal injury trust disregard rule also apply.

This means that existing tax credit claimants will need to consider whether they will need a personal injury trust to protect their future entitlement to Universal Credit, even if they don’t need one at present to protect their tax credit entitlement.
Our benefits and trusts team would be happy to discuss this with you in more detail, if necessary.

How does capital generally affect entitlement to community care support?

The local authority social services department has a duty to provide any services and / or accommodation above a certain threshold anyone who lives within its boundaries is assessed to require. However, it will then undertake a ‘means assessment’, to ascertain whether they will be expected to contribute towards the costs.

The capital rules are as follow:

1. The first £14,250 that the person has is disregarded, whatever its source.
2. Any capital they have between £14,250 and £23,250 is treated as generating ‘tariff income’ of £1 per week on every £250 (or part thereof) above the £14,250 level, and their income is then increased by this amount (and thus their expected contribution increases)
3. If they have capital in excess of £23,250, they will be expected to meet the full costs.

Will my personal injury payment definitely affect my entitlement to means-tested benefits and/or community care support?

Means-tested benefit claimants aged under pension age

If your interim payment or final settlement is the first payment made by the defendant in your personal injury case (including payments made to other people or organisations as part of your claim, for example in respect of medical expenses), then regulations state it will be disregarded when assessing your entitlement to means-tested benefits for up to fifty-two weeks.

If you are likely to have spent this payment within fifty-two weeks, or at least brought it below the aforementioned £6,000 level, you do not therefore necessarily need to set up a personal injury trust to hold this payment.

However, you will need to ensure that you only spend it on things that the authorities that administer your benefit claims will deem reasonable, to avoid the application of the ‘deprivation of capital’ and ‘notional capital’ rules. (See below).

You should also note that only the first payment is disregarded under the ‘fifty-two week’ rule. So if this is an interim payment, and you are likely to receive further interim payments or the final settlement in due course, you may need to start the process to set up a trust a few weeks before the next payment is due, to avoid that payment being taken into account and benefits reducing / stopping at that stage.

If your interim payment or final settlement will not take your total capital to above £6,000, then it will not affect your entitlement to means-tested benefits, and you do not need a personal injury trust at this stage. However, if this is an interim payment, you may need to set one up in due course when you receive a further payment, depending on the level of that payment.

In circumstances where this payment is not the first payment and will take your total capital to above £6,000, it will lead to a reduction in entitlement.

If it takes this total to above £16,000, it will lead to benefits stopping.

If this is the case, then we recommend that you set up a personal injury trust now. This will prevent your personal injury payment causing your benefits to reduce or stop, as regulations state that payments derived from a personal injury are disregarded as capital when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits for people aged under pension age, if they are held on trust.

Recipients of community care services/accommodation

Regulations state that the capital disregard rules in respect of personal injury payments when assessing contributions towards residential community care costs follow those for Income Support, subject to the difference in the lower and upper capital limits, and the fact that a partner’s means are not taken into account.

This means that your payment will be disregarded for up to fifty-two weeks if it is the first payment made by the defendant in your personal injury case.

Also, that if it will not take your total capital above the £14,250 level, it will not affect your contributions towards your community care costs.
However, you should note that if this payment will take your total capital above £14,250, it will lead to an increase in your expected contributions towards these care costs.

Further, that if it takes your total capital to above £23,250, it will mean you are expected to meet the full costs.

If this is the case, then we recommend you set up a personal injury trust now, as this will prevent your personal injury payment increasing your expected contributions. This is because regulations state that payments derived from a personal injury are disregarded as capital when assessing the level of contributions someone is required to make towards their community care costs.

The rules regarding assessing contributions towards domiciliary community care costs are not as clear cut. It is not specified in legislation that the ’fifty-two week rule’ and the personal injury trust disregard rule definitely apply. However, it is arguable that these rules should apply, as local authorities have a broad discretion as to what capital to take into account. There is a strong argument that these rules should apply in the same way as they do in respect of residential care charges, as there is no apparent justification for them not doing. (This is because the only real difference between means assessments in respect of residential and domiciliary care costs relates to the treatment of the value of the care-recipient’s home. That is a completely separate issue to personal injury capital). Crucially, setting up a personal injury trust necessarily precedes such an argument being made, i.e. to argue the same ‘personal injury trust disregard’ rule should apply as would if they were residential care costs rather than domiciliary, the money needs to be in a personal injury trust in the first place.

We would be happy to discuss this issue further with you if you are a recipient of domiciliary care.

Means-tested benefit claimants aged over pension age

Regulations simply state that personal injury payments are disregarded as capital when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits for people aged over pension age.

This means pensioners do not necessarily need to set up a personal injury trust to prevent their payment leading to their benefits reducing or stopping.

However, the personal injury payment will need to be kept separate to the pensioner’s other finances, so that it is clear to the authorities that administer their benefit claims which sums are to be disregarded. Setting up a trust and associated bank account is one way of doing this.

If you (understandably) do not wish to incur a fee for setting up a trust, we do strongly advise you to keep your personal injury payment separate by another means, for example by opening a separate bank account only in your own name that just holds those funds.

You will also need to notify the authorities that administer your claims about the money, as receipt of it is a relevant change of circumstances that you have a duty to disclose. You should clearly state it is derived from a personal injury claim.

It is notable that some pensioners may prefer to set up a trust to hold their personal injury payment for other reasons, for example because they want the protection of two (or more) trustees vetting the decisions they make as to how to spend the funds therein, or dealing with tax or investment issues.

If you feel this may be applicable in your case, our benefits and trusts team can refer you to one of our financial advisers to discuss what other benefits there may be to you in setting up a personal injury trust.

What if I just spend all of my personal injury payment?

If a means-tested benefit claimant receives a capital sum that means their total capital exceeds the ‘lower capital limit’ of £6,000, but then spends it on things that the authorities that administer their benefit claims consider unreasonable, they can be treated as still possessing it.

This is the ‘notional capital’ rule.

These authorities can therefore still reassess the claimant’s benefits and reduce or stop them, if it is believed the claimant deliberately deprived themselves of capital in order for it not to affect entitlement to means- tested benefits. This is the ‘deprivation of capital’ rule.

One example of what is likely to be considered unreasonable disposal of capital is giving it away to family members, even if you argue it is to repay money you owe them. This is because the authorities would be likely to deem it more reasonable for you to live off the money than give it to someone else, and establishing that you owe it to them is likely to be very difficult in the absence of a ‘paper trail’ (i.e. the paperwork proving you owe the money that you would have if you owed it to a bank – a loan agreement, statements verifying previous repayments etc).

This is in contrast to repaying formal debts, such as bank loans or credit card balances, or mortgage, rent council tax or utility arrears. There should not be any difficulty establishing that you owe these sums, and this should be accepted as a reasonable use of a capital sum and therefore not activate the notional capital and deprivation of capital rules.

It should also be accepted as reasonable for you to buy a new car if you need one, although you should choose one from within your usual price range to ensure this.

Repaying some or all of your mortgage capital should be accepted as reasonable, whereas doing so for somebody else who does not live with you is unlikely to be, as you will be expected to use your resources to meet your own housing (and other) costs rather than those of somebody else for whom you are not reasonably responsible.

Buying a property other than the one you live in will simply lead to the capital value of the second property being included in your total capital, and will not therefore stop it affecting your means-tested benefit entitlement.

TRUSTEES

What is a trustee?

A trustee is a person, chosen by you, to look after your personal injury funds. They vet what you spend the money on and each time you raise money from the account, they need to consent to the advance and its proposed use.

What do trustees do?

Trustees:

  • keep records of all trust income and expenditure,
  • assist the beneficiary with their tax requirements in respect of the trust, including the preparation of accounts, and
  • deal with any investments.

How many trustees should I have?

A minimum of two trustees are required. You can be one of the trustees yourself. You will then have to have at least one other trustee for there to be a trust relationship.

Who can be a trustee?

Anyone over eighteen years of age, including family and friends (provided no decision has been taken that they lack the mental capacity to fulfil the financial responsibilities of the role, for example by the Court of Protection).

However, you should note that if they have a negative credit rating or a criminal record, this may cause problems with setting up the associated trust bank account.

Your trustees should be people you trust, with whom you are likely to maintain contact indefinitely. Because of the practicalities of them being available to counter-sign cheques and have regular input regarding any investments, it makes sense for them to be people you see regularly.

In the alternative, a solicitor can be a professional trustee, although it is likely they will charge you.

You should choose carefully, as there is a further fee for changing trustees after the trust has been set up and complications can arise if trustees do not consent to their removal. Please see page 10 – ‘Do the trustees have to act on my wishes?’

AFTER A PERSONAL INJURY TRUST IS SET UP

How can my trust funds be invested?

An associated bank account is initially opened to receive your personal injury payment(s). However, as this account pays 0.5% interest per annum, you may wish to ‘invest’ these funds in other products/instruments to gain a better rate of return.

The funds you pay into this trust bank account can go on to be invested in a wide range of assets (i.e. property, shares, savings accounts etc) as long as these investments/assets:

  • allow investment from a trust, and
  • can be registered in the name of the trust

These investments will then be held in the name of the trust, rather than in your own name. However, you will still be the ‘beneficial owner’ of them. Any interest or income generated from these investments can then be paid back into the trust account, thus they are still disregarded for means-tested benefits/community care funding purposes.

We recommend that your trustees appoint a professional financial adviser to help with investments, preferably one who specialises in the investment of personal injury and clinical negligence awards. Our financial advisers can fulfil this role, and details of their commission rates or fees are available on request. Any initial consultation with our advisers is totally no obligation and free of charge.

How can I access my trust funds once the account has been set up?

The most straightforward method is for your trustees to counter-sign one of the cheques from your trust account chequebook made payable to you, and pay this into your own personal current account. You can then use the facilities attached to that account to spend the money. You can do this every so often to top up the funds readily available to you.

However, you should ensure that these payments into your current account do not ever take the balance to above £6,000, as the funds will stop being disregarded once they are outside the trust account.

You should also vary the amounts and the length of time that elapses between each payment, so that they are irregularly spaced and for irregular amounts, to avoid the authorities that administer your benefit claims treating them as income. While income payments from a personal injury trust are disregarded as income for the period to which they relate (for example, a month if they are paid monthly), any amount left at the end of that period then becomes capital. If this residual capital accrues to a level in excess of £6,000, it will lead to a reduction in means-tested benefit/cause it to stop, because it is held outside the trust.

Many trustees are tempted to arrange for a monthly income to be paid to the beneficiary out of the personal injury trust as a low-maintenance way of managing the funds and ensuring they have sufficient accessible funds. However, in our experience, these payments are often set too high, leading to problematic capital accrual outside the trust. It is therefore our advice that the best way to make sufficient funds available is to issue irregular advances in response to needs as and when they arise.

Can I pay other money into the trust bank account?

Any money received as a result of a personal injury can be paid into a personal injury trust bank account (and then invested, where applicable).

If this payment is an interim payment, you can therefore pay subsequent interim payments and/or the final settlement sum into the trust bank account and invest it in the name of the trust.

If you receive a payment in respect of a separate personal injury claim, this can also be paid in. However, it is only money received as a result of a personal injury that can be paid in. You cannot therefore pay in capital sums you derive from any other source, for example by inheriting them or obtain by selling assets or property (unless they are trust assets or property).

What are the tax requirements in respect of the trust funds?

The trustees should assist the beneficiary with the following:

  • The beneficiary’s local tax office needs to be notified when the trust is established,
  • records / accounts in respect of trust income, expenditure and assets then need to be kept, and 9
  • any income generated by the trust funds and investments then needs to be disclosed in the beneficiary’s annual tax returns.

It may subsequently be possible to recover the tax payments paid in respect of the trust funds.

Your trustees may need to appoint accountants to help with the trust tax requirements. We would be happy to refer them to our sister company to provide the necessary assistance – SBN Chartered Accountants. SBN will explain their charges on request.

Do the trustees have to act on my wishes?

Your trustees will be required to take your wishes into account. However, they will not be obliged to act upon them.

Their main obligation is to act in your best interests. If you do not believe they are doing this, for example by refusing to consent to an advance you request, this may breach the terms of the trust. In those circumstances, you can consider replacing them.

NB. Your trustees will need to consent to being replaced. If they refuse consent, you may consider making an application to Court for a trustee to be removed on the grounds that they are not acting in the best interests of the beneficiary. Such court action can be expensive and it is always preferable to try to maintain good relationships between all parties to the trust. This should be borne in mind when selecting trustees in the first place.

What happens if I get divorced?

As you will be the beneficial owner of the trust funds and assets, their value will be treated the same as any other capital asset when the financial arrangements are negotiated.

You should discuss this with a family solicitor in that eventuality.

What happens in the event of my death?

The trust funds and assets will form part of your estate. Your estate will then be distributed in accordance with the terms of your will. Any beneficiary of your will that is a means-tested benefit claimant will not have this capital disregarded, despite it originally being derived from a personal injury payment and previously having been held in a personal injury trust.

If you die without a valid will, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. This is not in keeping with most people’s wishes, and we therefore recommend that you have an up-to-date will. We suggest you seek specialist legal advice about this, and would be happy to ‘signpost’ you to appropriate advisers.

THE PROCEDURE

We undertake a free initial assessment to ascertain whether it would be advisable for you to set up a personal injury trust. If we advise you that it is, and you decide to go ahead, we then charge a fee to set up a personal injury trust.

This includes:

  • liaising with your personal injury solicitors
  • producing the trust deed,
  • establishing an associated trust bank account, and
  • notifying the relevant authorities that administer your means-tested benefit claims and/or provide
  • community care support about the trust funds, and why they should be disregarded.

What happens next?

If you decide to go ahead, you should complete, sign and return the enclosed ‘Acceptance form’. We will then obtain the other information we need from your Solicitor to enable us to draft your trust deed. Once the trust deed has been drafted, it will then be sent to you for you and your trustees to sign, in the presence of a witness.

At the same time, we will send you an application form to open the associated bank account to be completed and signed. You will then need to return these signed documents to us, along with proof of identity for yourself and each of your trustees (if requested). These are returned to you by special delivery post the same day.

Once we also receive cheques from your solicitor in respect of our fee and the balance to be paid into the trust account, everything is forwarded to the bank to set up the trust.

When will I be able to access the trust funds?

It should be noted that after we send everything off to the bank, it can take up to ten working days for the trust funds to be accessible. This is because it can take up to five working days for the account to be opened, and then up to another five working days for the cheque to clear.
This means it generally takes around four weeks for the process to be completed, from when you return the Acceptance form.
If you will need some of your funds before then, you can ask for an advance on the Acceptance form. This advance is only available if the award is already received by your Solicitor and they have banked it into their client account. You should ensure that this advance will not take the total money in your and your partner’s (if you have one) accounts to more than £6,000, to avoid the advance affecting your entitlement to means- tested benefits.