Alice Rose, Head of Programmes, Money and Mental Health

Ofcom backs our call for telecomms providers to improve support for customers with mental health problems

24 November 2020

From work to socialising, and GP appointments to grocery shopping – access to phone and internet services has been more important than ever in the last eight months.

But, with the economic consequences of the pandemic unfolding, many more people are struggling to pay their bills. So we welcome Ofcom’s letter to providers urging them to treat customers fairly and consider how they can support customers who are struggling to keep up with payments.

Recommendations for providers

Many of their recommendations echo the content of our Covid-19 Mental Health Accessible Standards – published back in April.

  • Multi-channel communication: We know that people with mental health problems often struggle to manage communications about arrears. For many, opening post can be a particular challenge and, therefore, it’s essential that providers notify customers of arrears via multiple channels to ensure the message reaches them. Providers should use text messages and telephone calls in addition to letters.
  • Disconnection as a last resort: Providers must allow customers time to get help and offer support and advice on how to manage their debts without the threat of disconnection.
  • Payment holidays or deferrals should be available where possible, and proactively offered by staff to allow customers time to sort out their debt.
  • Offering tariff advice: We know that people with mental health problems are more likely to be on a less favourable tariff. Our research has shown that two thirds (64%) of people with mental health problems do not feel that the pricing of telecoms services is easy to understand, and tariff structures can make it harder to compare options like-for-like. Providers should be proactive in supporting customers to switch to the best tariff available to help them manage their bills.

Telecomms providers should revisit their debt and disconnection practices

With the impact of the pandemic intensifying, and more people facing redundancy, providers are likely to see more customers struggling to pay their bills over the next few months. How lenders communicate with customers in debt can have a huge impact, which is why we are pleased to see Ofcom urge telecoms providers to revisit their debt and disconnection practices against both Ofcom’s vulnerability guide and the measures set out in their letter to providers. And, with our research showing that each year 100,000 people in problem debt attempt to take their own lives in England alone, it is vitally important that firms take steps to minimise the distress caused by debt collection practices.  

Are your firm's debt communications up to standard?

To ensure companies are meeting the mark and considering the needs of their customers with mental health problems, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has launched a new consultancy service supporting companies to review and amend their debt communications. This eight-week initiative is part of our Mental Health Accessible programme where we partner with essential services companies to help them make improvements for their customers with mental health problems.

Taking the opportunity to evaluate your debt communications now will help minimise the distress felt upon receiving arrears notification and maximise help seeking behaviour. The impact of effective and sensitive communication could be huge for your business. 

For more information about this programme please contact Alice Rose, Head of Programmes