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

A policy win - shaping today’s consumer green paper

Mental health problems can dramatically affect our cognitive and psychological functioning. We know this affects our daily lives in an enormous number of ways, but until Money and Mental Health starting examining it recently, nobody had really explored how much more it costs us. Today we’re delighted to share the results of months of hard work on this issue – a change in policy that should really help.

In the UK, essential services like energy and telecoms are provided through competitive markets. At Money and Mental Health, we have heard from many people who find navigating these markets to find the best deals, and interacting with firms, exhausting, anxiety-inducing  and sometimes impossible. As a result, they often pay more.

This isn’t fair. So, over the last six months, we have been asking economic regulators who manage markets, and the government to do more. And today, in the government’s new green paper “Modernising Consumer Markets” we’ve seen some fantastic progress.

Common problems

Looking across essential services markets, with the help of our Research Community, we found some common problems, including:

  • Struggling to compare options and switching between providers
  • Finding it difficult to communicate with providers, manage accounts, and get help when things go wrong
  • Understanding complicated bills and staying in control of payments.

Different expectations across different markets don’t help – when a person experiencing mental health problems runs into difficulties switching or engaging with the market for one essential service, that can often put them off trying again elsewhere. This can leave people feeling disempowered, and paying more for a range of important products and services – when people experiencing mental health problems are already more likely to be living on a low income.

Common solutions

Understanding what you can expect in essential markets is an important way of empowering consumers to take control and get better deals. So we’ve been specifically calling for the UK’s economic regulators, including Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom and the FCA, to work together through the UK Regulators Network (UKRN) to build common standards of accessibility and support for people experiencing mental health problems.

Introducing minimum standards of service for people experiencing mental health problems

After months of hard work, detailed research and meetings with officials, we’re delighted today to see that they’ve taken our findings on board. Following engagement with Money and Mental Health, the government has acknowledged for the first time that people experiencing mental health problems are particularly likely to experience difficulties in these markets. The government is now asking regulators to look into developing minimum standards that people experiencing mental health problems cognitive impairments or dementia should expect to receive across these sectors.

We are confident that this is a direct result of our hard work, and your support: the impact of mental health problems on consumers wasn’t even being discussed before Money and Mental Health was established in 2016, and we have been the only organisation calling for this. The brave and honest contributions of our Research Community have been particularly important in helping us make the case for change to government – a big thank you to everyone who has shared their story – you’ve made a real difference.  

We’re pleased too that the government have reaffirmed their commitment to making it easier for people to cancel unwanted subscriptions – something we’ve repeatedly called for as we know it can be particularly difficult for people experiencing mental health problems.

Ensuring data driven markets are safe and fair

It’s also exciting to see data being put at the heart of the government’s strategy in these markets. We think that data could play a big role in making it easier for people experiencing mental health problems to get a good deal by drastically reducing the amount of legwork involved in switching and making sure everyone can access the benefits of competition – but only if the use of data is regulated effectively to ensure it is fair and non-discriminatory. It’s great to see the government responding to these concerns by launching a review of Smart Data and we look forward to helping to shape regulation in this space going forwards.

These may sound like techy issues, but this is a big step towards ensuring that having a mental health problem doesn’t inevitably leave you in a difficult financial situation. It’s also a great sign that our research and policy work is being heard at the top of government. This is a consultation, and in time we’ll be sharing our full response – but for now we just wanted to share the good news. Thank you to all of the members of our Research Community who fed into this work – your insights are already creating real change.