Making free debt advice accessible to people with mental health problems
23 July 2020
Today we’re launching our latest report Help along the way, which looks at how free debt advice can be made more accessible to people with mental health problems.
Half of people in problem debt are experiencing a mental health problem. Common symptoms, such as difficulties communicating, impaired clarity of thought and reduced concentration or problem-solving skills, can make it difficult to engage with debt advice. Therefore, it is essential that the debt advice process is designed with people with mental health problems in mind, and delivered in a way which understands the challenges people with mental health problems can face.
Debt advice is a formal process where people are supported to draw up a budget and are helped to maximise their income and identify a debt solution that’s right for them. This free support is a lifeline to thousands of people with mental health problems who are also struggling with their finances.
“After a manic episode and hospitalisation, I had difficulty managing my day to day affairs. I needed advice and help to deal with long term debts, short term debts and debts created while manic.” – Expert by experience
However, our research found that there are a number of difficulties in the debt advice process, which make it harder for people with mental health problems to engage. Our report considers these challenges, and how debt advice providers, funders and regulators can ensure that debt advice is accessible to all.
Making a start
When you’ve been drowning in debt for so long, holding onto the hope that there can be a solution and finding the motivation to seek help can be the most difficult part. These challenges can be compounded by difficulties in understanding information about which debt advice provider to use. We found that only one in five people surveyed felt it was easy to find information about debt advice providers.
Different providers offer different levels of support and communications channels. For example, some offer directed self-help through online channels, while others offer more practical support via face-to-face provision. Clients are experts in their own lives, and likely to know how their mental health problems impact upon their ability to engage with service providers and the types of support they might need.
But research participants told us that a lack of clarity around the levels of support offered by different providers means it is harder to make informed choices about which provider would be most suitable to their needs.
Getting the right support
Getting the right support relies on advisors understanding a client’s circumstances, their financial situation, and also how a person’s mental health problems might impact on their ability to understand information, engage or complete specific tasks. However, only half of the people we surveyed felt that their adviser understood how their mental health problems affected their financial circumstances.
To provide the right support, debt advisors must then use this understanding to tailor the debt advice journey to a person’s needs. This might include: going at a slower pace, breaking the debt advice journey into smaller manageable steps, checking understanding, or tailoring tasks according to the individual’s ability to undertake them. This is not an easy task, and for advisors to do this well, they need good quality training and to be empowered by their employers to step outside of processes to do what is right for clients.
Finding a sustainable solution
Deciding on a solution can be tricky and involves understanding and weighing up the options presented to you and the consequences of each of those options. However, these options are not always easy to understand and we found that only three in ten survey participants understood the different debt solution options available to them.
The cognitive and psychological effects of many mental health problems can make implementing and sticking to a plan tricky too.
Finding a sustainable solution
We’ve made a range of recommendations that could make it easier for people with mental health problems to engage with the debt advice process. Here we list three important recommendations that are relatively quick to deliver:
1. Debt advice provider websites should help clients pick the best service for their needs, by clearly outlining information on the level of support they offer and how it is provided. This might include being clearer about how debt advice is delivered, eg: self-guided, with greater levels of support, primarily delivered online, over the phone or face-to-face.
The Money and Pensions Service debt advice tool could be a useful mechanism in this too and should provide more related information to help people with mental health problems make informed decisions about which provider they wish to use.
2. Debt advice providers should prioritise training around mental health problems and financial difficulty, explaining how mental health problems can both lead to financial difficulty and make it harder to engage with advice and follow plans.
3. Debt advice providers should collaborate to compile details of widely available money management tools, such as budgeting apps offered by current account providers. This would help advisers.
These relatively small changes would help advisers to better support clients, improve the debt advice process and give people with mental health problems a better chance of succeeding with their debt solution.
The paid-for-debt advice sector is not the focus of this report. Money and Mental Health do not in any way encourage people in problem debt to pay for debt advice. People can find sources of free debt advice by visiting the Money Advice Service website, which is provided by the Money and Pensions Service.