Action needed to ensure people in distress in England can access debt support

By agency reporter
July 27, 2020

A new report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute explores the challenges people with mental health problems face in accessing debt advice. It focuses in particular on free-to-access, accredited debt advice providers.

The charity’s research shows that nearly half (46 per cent) of people in problem debt in England also have a mental health problem – amounting to 1.5 million people in total. It also shows that many in this group experience common symptoms of mental health problems which make it much harder to find and engage with debt advice, such as difficulties communicating, impaired clarity of thought and reduced concentration or problem-solving skills.

Moreover, these challenges are exacerbated by bureaucracy and a 'one-size-fits-all' approach within the debt advice system – leaving many people with poor mental health unable to get the support they need with debt problems.

Based on a survey undertaken by the charity of 280 people with experience of mental health problems who have tried to access debt advice, the report highlights three key challenges people face in getting the right debt advice:  

  • Knowing where to turn for help in the first place: The lack of clear information about the varying support that different advice providers offer makes it very difficult for many people to choose the right service at the outset. Only one in five (20 per cent) survey participants found it easy to find information about debt advice providers.
  • Getting support that meets people’s mental health needs : Many people who disclosed a mental health problem to an adviser say that this information was not taken into consideration in the support they received. Just over half (54 per cent) felt that their adviser took their mental health into account, and only 47 per cent felt their adviser understood how their mental health affected their financial circumstances.
  • Finding a workable long-term debt solution: The complexity of debt advice plans can overwhelm people and make it extremely difficult to stay on track. Less than one in three people surveyed (29 per cent) said that they understood the different debt solutions offered to them by advisers, while only half (52 per cent) of those who agreed a debt advice plan completed it.

 The report also highlights the challenges that debt advisers face in supporting people with mental health problems. In particular, advisers say they would like more training in how mental health problems affect people’s ability to engage with debt advice, and more scope to adjust the support they offer for meeting the needs of these clients. 

Money and Mental Health is calling on debt advice providers to make it easier for people with mental health problems to access the support they offer – by making information about their services clearer, offering a greater range of communication channels and equipping advisers with training to better support people with poor mental health. 

It is also calling on regulators and funders of debt advice to address the barriers that people with mental health problems face in accessing this support, when shaping regulation and funding contracts for debt advice. 

The paid-for-debt advice sector is not the focus of this report. Money and Mental Health emphasise that they do not in any way encourage people in problem debt to pay for debt advice. Sources of free debt advice can  be found by visiting the Money Advice Service website, which is provided by the Money and Pensions Service.

Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “With millions more people facing debt problems and distress because of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that people can access debt advice in a way that meets their needs.

“This support can be life-changing, but too many people with mental health problems are missing out. The challenges of dealing with poor mental health, and the inflexibility of the debt advice system, can make it almost impossible for people to get the help they need with debt problems.

“We know that the debt advice sector is facing unprecedented pressures and demand. But taking small steps to make support more accessible would make a big difference in helping more people avoid financial difficulty in the coming months and years.”

Sarah Porretta, Strategy and Insights Director at the Money and Pensions Service, which sponsored the research, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has intensified the money difficulties people face, and added extra stress to the lives of many, so we know that people experiencing mental health issues are even more likely to suffer poor financial wellbeing. We continue to work with experts in government, financial services and the third sector to ensure that people with mental health problems receive tailored support and better outcomes.

“The findings in this report will help inform the work we are conducting to design better debt advice services for all people in the UK as part of the decade-long goals in the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing.

“Anyone who is worried about debt can get access to free debt advice by visiting the Money Advice Service website.”

* Read Help Along the Way: Making debt advice accessible to people with mental health problems here

* The Money Advice Service https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/debt-advice-locator

* Money and Mental Health Policy Institute https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/


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