Alice Rose, Head of Programmes, Money and Mental Health

How essential services providers can support customers with poor mental health during Covid-19

22 April 2020

We don’t yet know what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on the nation’s mental health, but right now we know from our recent research that more people are starting to  experience distress and anxiety. Me included: I’ve been at home for 38 days now and I’d be lying if I said I was completely fine. And for people with existing mental health problems, they are struggling without access to their normal coping mechanisms and sources of support. It’s likely that conditions will be exacerbated during this period of lock-down. 

Our previous work has highlighted how people experiencing poor mental health can find it hard to deal with essential service providers and stay on top of their finances. Given what we already know about increased distress and anxiety, coupled with larger numbers of people experiencing financial hardship due to coronavirus, we are very worried there is a large pool of customers who may be struggling to get the support they need. 

That’s why we’ve today launched urgent Covid-19 customer support standards, which we hope all essential service providers will adopt to offer effective support for their customers in need. 

These are eight standards most companies should be able to adopt quickly, so that customers will benefit without delay. We have been careful to ensure these standards won’t incur significant costs, or require huge amounts of staff time. It’s about companies being proactive with the support mechanisms most will already have in place. 

For example, we know that gambling activity seems to be increasing, and for people struggling with addiction, lockdown can pose a very real challenge. If a firm has spending blocks, they should now be actively promoting these control options. 

We also expect providers will see big increases in customers struggling to pay their bills over the next few weeks, including mortgages, energy and telephone bills. It’s vital that services are not cut off. For someone with a mental health problem, access to a telephone to stay in touch with friends, family and support organisations is a real life-line at this time. 

Companies also need to remember that many customers won’t know about forbearance or may be reluctant to ask for it, which is why it’s crucial that providers are proactive in offering support such as forbearance, and do everything they can to make the process easy and accessible to all. 

We, of course, still have our Mental Health Accessible partnership programme which works with firms to help them become accredited as a mental health accessible company. But, given the immediacy of this crisis, we wanted to ensure customers in difficult situations who need effective customer service right now can get it. 

Meeting these urgent standards will give companies a stepping stone towards becoming an accredited Mental Health Accessible partner in the future. And in the immediate situation, it would make a big difference in supporting customers affected by money and mental health problems during the pandemic.