Alice Rose, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Money and Mental Health
How our new guide can help your firm meet its legal duties under the Equality Act
2 March 2022
I’ve spent the majority of my career working with essential service providers who want to make things better for their more vulnerable customers. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most passionate and committed people in the sector, and some extremely driven and proactive firms. But sadly, I know vulnerable customers are still getting poor outcomes and people with mental health problems are struggling to access the services they rely on.
Last month, our new report Time to Act highlighted that 18% of the UK adult population, equivalent to 9.5 million people, may have a mental health problem that is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. Under the Act, essential services providers have a legal duty to anticipate the needs of disabled people and offer them reasonable adjustments so they can use their services without being disadvantaged compared to non-disabled people.
But our research suggests that many providers may be failing in their duty to offer reasonable adjustments. Not only is this illegal, but it’s causing harm to customers with mental health problems. Poor accessibility can not only have a psychological impact, but it can mean people can’t access services they need and they suffer severe financial harm as a consequence.
It feels like we’re in a place where the intentions at many firms are good but the support for people with mental health problems hasn’t materialised. In response to this, we’ve created a practical guide for essential services providers like banks, energy providers, water companies and telecoms, which explains what reasonable adjustments look like in concrete terms for your firm. In this guide we share with firms practical adjustments they should consider and tell them why they’re important. I’d urge anyone who works for an essential services firm to download this now.
What are reasonable adjustments for people with mental health problems?
We know some of you may be wondering what a reasonable adjustment for a person with mental health problems actually looks like. I find it helpful to draw parallels with physical disabilities where reasonable adjustments are possibly better understood. For someone who uses a wheelchair, a firm will likely anticipate their needs and provide ramp access, or for a customer who is visually impaired a firm might provide information and correspondence in braille format.
Reasonable adjustments for people with mental health problems are sometimes less clear – but this is where our guide can help. For example, we know that 75% of people with a mental health problem have some form of communication phobia, often it’s the telephone, and a reasonable anticipatory adjustment could be ensuring customers have a range of different channels to get in touch. This could be using a web-chat function for someone who finds telephone calls distressing.
“When my mental health is bad, I live in a place of fear, shame, worry and anxiety… I can’t make phone calls, or even answer the phone when I get to this stage. I struggle to use the phone at any time, even to call my family.” Expert by experience
Other examples of simple changes your firm could make include giving people extra help with decision-making and reminders to help them manage their account, or using more accessible language in the letters and other communications you send them.
This isn’t box-ticking, you need to make sure they work
I would urge providers not to just skim this guidance and think, ‘yes we do all of this’. The feedback from our Research Community suggests providers are falling short in meeting their obligations under the Equality Act. I ask firms to take a moment and consider some key questions:
- Do your customers know about these adjustments?
- Are they being proactively offered?
- Do all staff know about them, and do they have the power to offer adjustments or are they reserved for all specialist teams?
- Do your adjustments work, both in terms of access to a service, but access to an equally good experience and outcome?
- Are you anticipating the needs of people with mental health problems?
Working with you
We designed this guide comprehensively to enable firms to digest and start to consider where they can implement guidance within their firms. But we also know that implementing change can be challenging and require testing. Which is why Money and Mental Health have a consultancy team called Mental Health Accessible who work with firms in lots of different ways to help them make tangible improvements for customers. If you would like to speak to the team about how we can support you, please get in touch via the email below.