Nic Murray, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Plastic fantastic - introducing carers' cards

Sharing is caring?

Have you ever asked a friend to help you with filling in a form, or supported a partner to work through a budget? Getting help with managing our money can be useful for all of us, but may be essential during a period of poor mental health when things like remembering to pay bills on time or keeping track of spending can be all the more challenging. In fact, half of carers for people with mental health problems help them with their finances and paperwork.  

We all recognise the importance of this support, but most of the time banks’ systems just aren’t set up to easily allow carers to provide help with managing money. Our research in the autumn revealed that, as a result, carers and the people they care for are having to put themselves in awkward (and sometimes risky) positions to find ways to help. We found that half of carers for someone with a mental health problem know someone else’s PIN number and a quarter know someone else’s online banking password.

“It does not feel comfortable for me to be pretending that I’m my father, which is effectively what I was doing… But it was the best worst option.”

Steps in the right direction

Since we published this research, we’ve been calling on banks and credit providers to take action – and we’re encouraged with the progress that’s been made. The Telegraph recently reported that Barclays plan to introduce a carers’ card by the end of this year; the debit cards, which will have separate PINs, can allow carers to pay bills and carry out a number of limited transactions.

Having a carer able to step in and pay an outstanding bill while a person is unwell could be the difference between someone with a mental health problem just about managing, or falling into financial difficulty – which can make their mental health worse. Being able to carry out transactions within certain limits could also make it easier for carers to buy groceries for someone who may be unable to leave the house. The cards can ensure it’s easy for both people to keep track of what was spent and by whom, reducing the potential for financial abuse.

A cross-sector approach

We hope that other banks and credit providers will follow this lead and provide tools that recognise that many of us share the responsibility of money management – particularly in periods of poor mental health. There are encouraging signs that this is moving up the agenda right across the sector, with eight of the largest high street banks recently agreeing to implement a new set of principles for third party financial management as part of the BBA’s Vulnerability Taskforce.

These principles aim to improve outcomes for vulnerable customers, and will help those who benefit from the support of friends and family. The changes, which will be in place by May 2018, will provide greater clarity on the options available for third parties, in addition to introducing greater consistency between banks on the documents required to register Powers of Attorney, and allowing third party access through more channels – like the telephone. Each of these processes should make communicating with banks easier for carers, who often want to help but are faced with many barriers when trying to do so.

Cause for optimism?

It can be difficult enough managing a period of poor mental health without having to weigh up the risk of sharing personal bank details with a carer in order to avoid financial difficulty. Equally, it can be hard enough caring for someone with mental health problems, without navigating telephone call centres that refuse to allow you to pay a bill their behalf or find out their balance. The recent steps financial service providers have taken should allow tools and processes to be in place to make sure carers can provide help with managing money, and people with mental health problems can get support, without either party having to take those risks. We are encouraged by the impact this research is already having, and hope that one day this approach to shared financial management will be a standard feature, rather than an added extra, on all accounts.