January 28, 2022 - As mental health professionals, we all know the importance money management places in our client’s life. With the rising cost of living and inadequate pensions that are unable to keep up with these costs, managing money for clients is becoming more challenging than ever.
In a supported living environment, support and independence are intertwined. To provide an environment that respects a client’s right to control their finances is of the utmost importance. However, many require support to manage their money. It is important to allow them to manage their money for personal use but this is based on a variety of factors and their competencies.
As a result, mental health professionals must decide on the best route for managing their client’s finances when required. This comes in two forms: an informal/formal trusteeship or a detailed money management program.
How does one determine which is the best option for the client?
When a client is showing an ongoing pattern of the inability to make sound financial decisions or if a client is vulnerable to financial predators in the community, a trusteeship is often the answer. Trusteeship can be informal or formal.
An informal trustee can be a community agency, a parent or other family member that is advocating protecting the client’s needs. In this scenario, the client would sign over their pension cheque to the trustee or deposit it into a trust account managed by their trustee.
In an informal trusteeship situation, the client needs to be a willing participant because it is completely voluntary. For example, if John Doe asks Ontario Disability to send his cheque to his mother every month, he has the ability to cancel this action with just one phone call, resume control over his finances and run the risk of encountering financial issues once again.
In a formal situation, the client undergoes a mental capacity assessment and if they are deemed incapable of managing their own money, a legal process is put in place whereby a public guardian itself steps in to become a trustee for this individual. In either case, the client’s needs are protected. When there is a capacity assessment which allows trustees to exercise more control, it's harder for that individual to instruct their trustee or stop them from directing their finances.
Example 1 - Formal Trustee Money Management
John Doe is a young male with mild cognitive disabilities and possesses a strong need for acceptance by his peers. These peers find ways to pressure him to turn over his money to them every month, leaving John nothing for rent, food or basic necessities.
This is a sad situation seen often in many communities. In this case, John is a perfect candidate for a formal trusteeship situation because his lack of judgement and need to be accepted is stronger than his understanding of the importance of prioritizing and spending his money to cover the cost of his rent and necessities.
A formal trustee would ensure that John's rent is paid directly to his landlord every month, keeping John housed and allocating the balance of the money to John to take care of his groceries and any other personal needs that he may require.
Often trusteeship alone is not enough to direct their client’s finances as trustees operate within government offices and sometimes do not see the reality of the situation on the street or have accurate insight in the everyday life of their client. Often, they depend largely on the client’s feedback for their money needs. Even with trusteeship money management, a second level of supervision may be required.
Example 2 - Personal Financial Money Management
Jane Doe is a 27-year-old female living in a supportive housing situation. After her room and board is paid each month by her trustee, Jane has approximately $150 a month left. However, she has not declared to the trustee that she's a recovering drug addict and the leftover money is Jane’s trigger to use drugs.
Even though at the first of the month, her trustee pays and covers her rent, Jane spends the entire $150 on drugs, leaving her with no money for basic necessities and personal effects. As a result, Jane resorts to criminal activity by stealing change from cars or shoplifting where she ends up being arrested. Since the balance of her monthly income was not managed, Jane is incarcerated and loses her housing.
Situations like these can be avoided with a money management program at the supported living level. Individuals such as housing providers or staff work closely with their clients and in Jane’s case would have had prior knowledge of her addiction. Money managers would work proactively, understanding Jane’s living requirements and helping her make healthy choices by managing her money on a weekly or even daily basis. They would create a budget to pay for her basic needs such as hygiene products, and even cigarettes if she is a smoker. The balance may be much less in the end but a good deterrent to prevent Jane from feeding her addiction or facing incarceration.
Why Money Management is Important
Offering a money management service in a supported living environment allows for the staff, who are trained in managing finances, to handle a resident’s money appropriately and with confidentiality, all while minimizing the risk of the client abusing their own funds. If there is no family member or representative willing or able to manage the client’s income (CPP, ODSB, Retirement, Inheritance), managers and staff may find it in the best interest of the client to step in.
When choosing a money manager for a trustee or even a non-trusteed client, consider the following questions:
- How present and sustainable is the money manager for the client’s ongoing needs?
- Does the money manager have oversight over the finances of the client?
- How accountable are they to the client and/or trustee?
- Who is managing the money manager to ensure they are being managed correctly?
- Is there ongoing financial accounting as a standard of best practice?
- How well does the money manager know the client’s personal situation?
- What are their personal needs on a given month?
- Are they a smoker or non-smoker?
- Do they require special drugs that are not covered by the public drug system?
- Do they have addiction issues where excess cash on hand can land them into trouble?
For any money manager, important considerations are oversight, accountability and insight into a client’s situation. Ultimately the determination of whether a client’s money should be trusteed or managed can make the difference between keeping them housed or inadvertently perpetuating the cycle of homelessness, hospitalization and incarceration.
Written by Vishal Chityal
CEO, President and Founder