Nikki Bond, Intern, Money and Mental Health

Introducing: Nikki Bond

This is the start of my second week at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – and while it’s a big change for me, it’s far from my first week working on money and mental health. I moved here following a career working first in social care, and more recently with vulnerable customers within the financial services industry – so the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems is one I’m very familiar with.

In my most recent role in the financial services industry I helped vulnerable customers to manage their accounts and repay debts they owed. The scope and breadth of this role quickly became apparent, and to do it well I needed to do more than simply support people to repay their debts, but also identify how their mental health may impact on their financial capability. To help people, we needed to assist them to budget, to signpost for debt advice and learn how to maximise their income, to identify suspicions of financial abuse and to guide people in understanding their finances and how their financial products worked.

Terms and conditions

One particular issue which I saw time and again, was people’s understanding of financial products’ terms and conditions. The process of applying for credit has become simplified; advancements in technology and the many ways in which credit can be applied for, including through apps and online, have broken down the barriers to gaining credit. Whilst opening up a whole new world of possibilities on the one hand, on the other, I have seen the adverse effects of easy access credit, and the difficulties in understanding complicated terms and conditions.

This led me to think about the accessibility of the information provided when signing up to these products, how many of us read the full terms and conditions? How many of us understand these and the implications? Is there not more of an onus on those providing products to make this information accessible to a range of audiences, understanding and literacy levels?

The experience of obtaining credit and then struggling to repay debts is a universal one, and certainly not limited to those with mental health problems. However, the links between debt and mental health are becoming all too familiar, and the impact of problem debt on a person’s mental health recovery was very apparent to me.

Watching history repeat itself

Working within the financial industry, I quickly learnt that there was a relatively small pool of agencies offering help to vulnerable consumers, and despite the fantastic work provided by these services, that the same themes and difficulties arose again and again. Namely: people with mental health problems and those who support them believing that a person did not have the capacity to consent to credit agreements; people struggling to manage their financial affairs during a period of hospitalisation; people not understanding products and the consequences of missing payments; and difficulties in budgeting and managing welfare reform cuts.

I had previously always worked on an individual basis with people, but in recognising recurring themes and difficulties faced by people with mental health problems, I began to want to move away from assisting one-on-one, and to contribute to improving the experiences of people with mental health difficulties on a larger scale.

A new challenge

Having spent the early part of my career working within social care, I have a strong sense of social justice and a passion for advocacy and supporting people to have their voice heard. Working with disadvantaged and marginalised groups, I had a growing awareness of the relationship between debt and mental health. These experiences have shaped and developed my understanding of disadvantage and financial exclusion, particularly difficulties people experience in managing their budgets; controlling their spending and making complex decisions. It was at the point, where I began to recognise these re-emerging trends, that I learnt of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

I was encouraged by the work of Money and Mental Health, who were beginning to establish an irrefutable evidence base about the links between mental health and money. I was specifically interested in their focus on solutions that were consumer-led and empowering, which firmly left the control and choices in the hands of the people concerned.

I have been afforded this unique opportunity for a six month period. I hope in this time to learn and develop particularly my research skills, but also to use my experience in social care and the finance industry to contribute to this important and developing area of policy and research.