Kate Langston, External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health

Event catch-up: launching our ‘A little help from my friends’ report

29 July 2019

When you’re struggling with your mental health, friends and carers can be an invaluable source of support when it comes to getting help with managing money. But many people with mental health problems encounter significant barriers – including practical, legal and personal – in trying to get this help.

That’s why we were very excited to launch our latest report, A little help from my friends, which explores some of these difficulties in more depth, and sets out a number of clear steps that firms, regulators and the government can take to address them. And we were delighted to be joined by a panel of leading experts in the fields of finance, politics and consumer protection to discuss our findings, which was chaired by the Financial Times’ resident Money Mentor, Lindsay Cook. Read on for some of our highlights:

Katie Alpin

A picture of our Head of Research and Policy, Katie Alpin

Our Head of Research and Policy, Katie Alpin, began by providing a brief summary of the key findings and recommendations from the report. As she explained, difficulties around getting support with financial management are something that our Research Community members have raised time and time again. That includes firms refusing to speak to a third party on their behalf when someone is unwell, or frustration at the lack of choice and autonomy offered by formal mechanisms such as Power of Attorney. 

These challenges are complex, but people are often quite clear about what they want in terms of  solutions: the ability to share some information about an account with a trusted shared party, the ability to share some limited decision-making powers, and the ability to communicate on someone else’s behalf. Katie stressed that these were not only possible to achieve, but there are already initiatives underway – both in the UK and abroad – that offer examples of how this can be done.

Leah Milner

A picture of Leah Milner

A financial journalist who has written and spoken publicly about living with Bipolar, Leah drew upon her own experiences of getting into debt during a period of ill-health to highlight some of the current flaws with Power of Attorney (PoA). Following a breakdown five years ago, which cost Leah £25,000 through lost earnings and impulse spending, a relative suggested she consider entering into a PoA arrangement. 

She described being “horrified” by the prospect of handing over so much control, and feeling like she had been “written off” as someone who could no longer handle the responsibility of managing their finances. For her, regaining control of her finances had been an important part of recovery. She therefore urged banks and other institutions to preserve people’s independence as far as possible when designing tools and systems to help them get support with money management.

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP

A picture of Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan MP – speaking in her former role as Chair of the Treasury Select committee – responded to our research in light of the committee’s own recent report, which also examined issues around third party access. She welcomed a number of our recommendations, including our calls for firms to take immediate action to improve staff training around third party access mechanisms, and to offer customers the ability to set up third party alerts and notifications on their accounts. She also spoke about the importance of PoA and the prospect for reform, touching on her own experience of going through the process for her father, who has dementia. Acknowledging some of the concerns raised in the report about the current system, she suggested that proposals for PoA reform could be met with strong political support.

Jan Sensier

A picture of Jan Sensier

Speaking on behalf of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), which has responsibility for overseeing the PoA system, Jan Sensier stated that the OPG understood many of the issues raised in the new report. She also set out long term ambitions to address these, with a commitment to “furthering supported decision-making”. Jan went on to outline the organisation’s priorities for the next few years, which will primarily focus on creating a digital PoA system so that applications can be registered and stored online. But she added that the OPG is also currently testing a new tool to allow people to share details of the own PoA arrangement more easily. The ultimate ambition is to create PoAs that are easier to set up and amend over time, to reflect someone’s changing circumstances and needs – something that would be “particularly suitable for people with mental health conditions”.

Stuart McFadden

Picture of Stuart McFadden

Our final panellist was Stuart McFadden, Head of Financial Difficulties at the digital bank Monzo. He  welcomed the report as a guide for firms to better understand what customers want when it comes to sharing financial information or decisions with a third party. Touching on the existing tools that Monzo offers to support this, he admitted that it was currently “all or nothing”, with the bank seeing “too many” examples of customers using workarounds to try and get the help they need. But he stressed that the company was already developing solutions to this, and aspires to offer its customers a “full range” of controls – from giving a friend or carer full access to an account, to just allowing them to view transactions.

These opening remarks were followed by a Q&A, with questions from our audience. The fact that this overran – despite the lure of the sunshine outside – was a testament to the level of interest and engagement in this issue, and it was heartening to see so many conversations continuing once the panel was over. But as with all our report launches, the work doesn’t stop here – in many ways, it’s only just begun, as we set to turning our recommendations into reality.

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You can read our new report, A little help from my friends, here.