FUKUOKA -- Concerns have arisen that wards of Japan's adult guardianship system and other vulnerable people may be deprived of special cash payments that the government is providing to all residents of Japan to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak, as their guardians are not automatically involved in the application process.
Under Japan's adult guardianship system, a third party is sometimes appointed as a guardian to manage the assets of an adult in a weak position due to an intellectual disability or other problems because the head of that person's household has used up all their money. The government's 100,000-yen cash payments, however, are made in principal to the head of the household -- sparking concerns that they could misappropriate the money.
On May 28, the Miyazaki Bar Association in western Japan sent a request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and local bodies in Miyazaki Prefecture asking them to address the issue. In cases where the mailing address for various notifications -- such as those regarding welfare services for a person with disabilities -- has been transferred to an adult guardian, the bar association requested that applications for the cash payments also be sent directly to the guardian, even if they are not the head of the household.
Among those seeking an improvement in the situation is a 45-year-old social welfare worker, who for around the past 10 years has served as the guardian of a man in his 40s with intellectually disabilities. "His support payments might be used without his permission," she said with a concerned look.
The man was previously the subject of property inheritance proceedings, and his mother had served as his adult guardian before the social worker took over the job. During an annual family court report, however, it emerged that the man's mother had been misappropriating his disability pension to cover living expenses. The family court subsequently appointed the social welfare worker as his guardian to handle his assets along with his use of welfare services for people with disabilities.
At the beginning of June, the woman asked the local body where the man lived to send the application for his 100,000 yen payment to her. The local body, however, refused, on the grounds that the man was not the head of the household. The woman plans to speak to the man's mother about the cash payment, but she fears doing so could worsen family relations.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication's office in charge of the special cash payments stated, "The payments are made to the head of the household, so in accordance with that principle if they (the person under care) are a member of the household, the application will not be sent to the guardian in principle." One 46-year-old social welfare worker in Miyazaki Prefecture responded, "I want the central government and local bodies to understand the spirit of the system -- that guardians are there to protect the rights of the individual."
Lawyer Shinichi Harada, head of the committee at the Miyazaki Bar Association for protection and advocacy of older people and people with disabilities, who filed the request, commented, "It's inappropriate to make a judgement based merely on who is the head of the household. Preparations should be made at the present stage, as there could be more payments in the future."
A representative of the Miyazaki Prefecture city of Kobayashi, which has received the request and is considering how to respond to it, commented, "We can understand the gist of it, but there was little time to prepare, and not enough time to gather information on all the people under the care of guardians who are not the head of the household. If there are new cash payments, then we'd like to deliver the applications to guardians."
The adult guardianship system is designed to legally support those without sufficient powers of judgement, such as those with dementia and intellectual disabilities, so they can receive medical and welfare services, while protecting them from losing their assets through dishonest business practices. At the request of the person's spouse, relatives or the head of their municipality, a family court chooses a guardian who can manage their assets, sign contracts for them and take other legal procedures. Lawyers and relatives can become guardians under the system. Corporations can also be named as adult guardians.
(Japanese original by Kenta Somatani, Kyushu News Department)