Katie Alpin, Head of Research and Policy, Money and Mental Health

Making it easier for people to get help from friends to manage money

16 July 2019

Today we’re delighted to be publishing our new report A little help from my friends, looking at the challenges people experiencing mental health problems face when they need family or friends to help them manage money. 

Many people living with mental health problems need some help with certain parts of managing money, particularly when they’re acutely unwell. The 465 people with lived experience in our Research Community who contributed to this project highlighted help with checking bills, managing a budget and controlling spending, and communicating with essential services providers, as being particularly important.

Help when I need it, on my terms

But the “a little help” in our title is an important distinction. Help is often needed only periodically, or with certain tasks but not others. Most of the 11 million people living with mental health problems in the UK don’t feel the need to have someone else managing their finances all the time – but they do want help from friends and family members when they need it, in a way that works for them. 

Our research found that current systems and processes for facilitating this kind of support just aren’t working well for people with mental health problems. Both people with mental health problems and those who care for them expressed concerns that existing mechanisms which allow friends and family members to access a person’s accounts, like Power of Attorney:

    • Delegate too much power, reducing the person’s independence  
    • Give away too much information, undermining their privacy 
    • Don’t do enough to minimise the risk of fraud 
  • Are too difficult to set up and use.

“(It) would be good to set up contingency plans for if I become unwell to the extent that I can’t feel bothered about managing my finances, but at the same time (I’m) not so unwell that Power of Attorney would be suitable.” – Research Community member

The consequences

Because the tools available aren’t working well, people are all too often resorting to risky workarounds like sharing online login details or PIN numbers, which leave them at risk of fraud and abuse. In new national polling specially commissioned for this report, we found that across the UK, 43% of people who have experienced a mental health problem have let someone else use their credit or debit card, and one in five (20%) has let someone else log into their online banking. 

This can have very real consequences for people living with mental health problems. We heard from more than one person who had been left without enough to live on after a ‘friend’ took money to pay bills and then disappeared with the cash. 

I had two instances where people failed to pay the bills and took the money, leaving me without money and bills needing to be paid.” – Research Community member

The way forwards

In our new report, we explore what people with mental health problems think good systems for allowing friends and family to help with money management would look like.

People were particularly keen to have the ability to share some, but not all, the information about their accounts with a friend or family member – for example using notifications when their bill is due or their spending changes. People were also keen to have the ability to share information but not decision-making powers, so that a friend or family member could keep an eye on things, but come to the person first if they saw something that concerned them – therefore protecting people’s  independence. 

It’s much easier for firms to provide the systems that would be needed to do this when they’re clear about what they have to do by law. For that reason, we’re calling on the Office of the Public Guardian – which has oversight over the Power of Attorney system in England and Wales – to consider reforms it can make as part of its ongoing transformation programme. In particular, we want to look at ways that existing Power of Attorney tools could be adapted to support people, including those living with mental health problems, who want help and support to make financial decisions, without completely delegating power. 

There’s a long way to go to modernise existing tools to make sure they meet the needs of people living with mental health problems. But with smarter technologies to help us, now’s the time to face up to the challenge. Over the coming months, we’ll be working across government departments, with the Office of the Public Guardian and with firms to try and make our recommendations reality. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.