Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair, Money and Mental Health

Martin Lewis: Looking back at our highlights from 2019/20

27 July 2020

I write this, like much of the nation, still working from home. The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing financial crisis, means the twin problems of mental health problems and financial distress have never been so important or prominent. So it is with pride that I look back at the achievements made by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in the year that led up to the world changing.

The Institute made important strides towards its vision of a world where the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems is broken. 

We’ve seen the result of our ‘Stop the Charge’ campaign come into effect in England, launched new initiatives like the exciting Mental Health Accessible scheme, and even looked to the Institute’s own future with an ambitious strategy setting out how to achieve more change. And since the Coronavirus started, we’ve set out quickly the impact it could have on people’s mental health and finances, solutions needed, and fed in to policy makers and regulators to help.

Our work in 2019/20 was guided by three ambitious organisational goals:

1. Fewer people are disadvantaged as a result of their mental health or experience psychological harm when choosing, using or paying for essential services

Our research shows that many people with mental health problems are effectively locked out of services such as banking, energy and telecoms, because of difficulties in making phone calls, opening post or filling in complex forms. To address these problems, we launched the Mental Health Accessible standards, an innovative new scheme aimed at helping directly guide firms take practical steps to make their services work better for customers experiencing mental health problems. We were delighted to partner with Lloyds Bank on a pilot of the scheme, and hope to roll it out across more essential services firms in the coming years.

We published groundbreaking research exploring how financial firms can use customer data to spot signs that people are at risk of falling into debt, and to intervene to offer support. Another key report highlighted the difficulties people with mental health problems face when sharing financial decision-making with loved ones, and the steps that the government and essential services firms can take to make this process easier and safer. 

In a new venture for us, we were also pleased to launch an exciting programme of work with the Gambling Commission, to engage financial services in efforts to reduce gambling-related harm. 

Finally, we were delighted that our research, analysis and policy proposals, featured extensively in new regulatory guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofcom, on how firms should treat vulnerable customers.

2. Fewer people have poor living standards as a result of mental health problems

This area focuses on making the benefits system more accessible for those with poor mental health, an issue which has become even more urgent during the pandemic. We published a policy paper setting out the barriers that people with mental health problems face in accessing benefits — including difficulties filling in complex forms, and the loss of support from loved ones during the lockdown. 

We also led a coalition of national mental health charities in writing a joint open letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey MP, calling for the government to take urgent action to ensure that people with mental health problems do not miss out on vital benefits support during the coronavirus outbreak. The government then took action on some of our key asks, including relaxing requirements to receive benefits, and extending the timeframe for completing benefits claims.

3. Support services become more effective at helping people who have both money and mental health problems

In October 2019 we were thrilled to see our successful  ‘Stop the Charge’ campaign come into effect in England, bringing an end to GP charges in England for the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. This is paperwork that people with mental health and debt problems can be asked to provide to creditors in order to receive additional support. We will continue to work to end these changes in other parts of the UK in the coming years.

In January we were delighted to see our work cited in the new decade-long financial wellbeing strategy from the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), the government’s body to promote better financial guidance and information. MaPS credited our work as the key influence in its decision to have mental health as a central cross-cutting priority in the strategy. 

Finally, we also published research on how health professionals, public bodies, employers and essential services firms can help prevent financial problems associated with mental illness. 

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is a small charity that punches far above its weight. That is only possible through the support of our Research Community of 5,000 experts by experience (as of April 2021), whose ideas, stories and feedback are at the heart of everything we do. We owe a huge heartfelt thanks to them for their tremendous support in sharing their experiences and views to help others, and for showing us where changes need to be made.  

There are many others who need thanks for their crucial contribution to our work. They include Vice-Chair Richard Lloyd and all my talented fellow Trustees for their continued support, scrutiny and stewardship, and our Advisory Board for their insight and guidance. Finally, I want to say a big thanks to the whole Money and Mental Health team, led by Helen Undy and currently Katie Alpin, whose passion, energy and dedication has enabled the charity to have such great impact. 

In normal years I would sign off in a confident hope that next year, we could go even further in breaking the toxic link between money and mental health problems. This year, with the extraordinary events due to the coronavirus outbreak, an honest hope is to limit the damage where we can.