Strength in numbers
Have you ever told someone your PIN number?
Maybe you needed them to pick something up from the shops for you and didn’t have any cash to hand, or needed money but weren’t able to get to a cash machine yourself. You probably knew you weren’t meant to share these details, but as a one-off, with someone you trust, most of us wouldn’t have seen the harm. Our new research suggests you’re not alone: 16.4 million people across the UK know someone else’s PIN number. That’s a third of the adult population.
But what if being able to manage your money, making sure that you were paying your bills and were in control of your spending, relied on sharing personal bank details with someone close to you – not just PIN numbers, but potentially your online banking login details too?
This is a situation that many people with mental health problems face. During periods of poor mental health it can be difficult to keep on top of bills or get in touch with the bank. Periods of low mood can also be accompanied by increased spending or applications for new credit. In these situations, knowing that a loved one or trusted friend is able to keep an eye on your finances by knowing your PIN number or online banking password can be a reassurance.
Our new research has found that this is a common way for people to support a loved one who might find it challenging to manage money during periods of poor mental health. Half of those who care for someone with a mental health problem (52%) know someone else’s PIN, while 23% know someone else’s online banking password.
Why take the risk?
Sharing these bank details with anyone, even someone you trust, can be risky as it leaves you open to fraud and goes against the terms of your bank account. But carers and people with mental health problems are choosing to do this as it’s the “best worst option”. From what some people with experience of mental health problems have told us, if it’s a choice between being at risk of financial difficulty due to periods of poor mental health and being at risk of financial abuse by sharing confidential passwords and PIN numbers, they will choose the latter. The alternatives – having bills go unpaid while you’re in hospital after a sudden mental health crisis, or getting into financial difficulty because you struggle to control your own spending – seem much worse.
Carers have told us they feel uncomfortable at times having to pretend to be the person they care for, when logging into their bank account to check their spending or calling the bank. But being honest with the banks is even more challenging. Due to the interpretation of rules around data protection, many carers are left unable to help at all when they call up banks asking about the accounts of the person they care for. They often have to repeat their story lots of times before they reach an understanding ear, and are left unable to help in the way they would like.
Our research found how common sharing banking details and security information is among carers, but there will also be many more people – friends, partners or family members – who want to help a loved one manage their money but currently don’t because they are nervous about breaking the rules. This is why we’re calling on banks, building societies and utilities to recognise that, for people with mental health problems, getting this support can be the difference between being able to manage their money, and ending up in financial difficulty. We’re asking organisations to:
- Develop a strategic approach to carer and family access to information so there are clear rules across the board about what carers can expect when contacting a bank or building society.
- Develop simple, flexible and accessible tools for third party access, support and control of customer accounts like read-only access to accounts, notifications of unusual behaviour like large transactions, or delegation so carers can take make some kinds of financial decisions for the person they care for in a transparent way.
- Improve the Power of Attorney system so it appeals to people with ongoing, fluctuating mental health problems, not just people with deteriorating health conditions.
We rarely manage our money entirely by ourselves, and for people with mental health problems, this extra support can be essential. As well as these recommendations, we are calling on banks to recognise in principle that when managing our money, there’s strength in numbers.