More than 100,000 people in problem debt attempt suicide each year in England
03 December 2018
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A new report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute reveals the devastating mental toll of being in financial difficulty – and calls on the government to change out-of-date legislation which is contributing to people in problem debt becoming suicidal.
Based on exclusive analysis of new national data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (1), the report reveals:
- Over 420,000 people in problem debt consider taking their own life in England each year
- More than 100,000 people in debt actually attempt suicide each year
- People in problem debt (2) are three times more likely to have considered suicide than people who do are not in problem debt
Drawing on an in-depth survey of people with personal and professional experience of issues around suicide (3), the report highlights a number of ways in which someone’s financial circumstances can put them at risk of becoming suicidal.
These include long-term factors like persistent poverty and financial insecurity, and sudden triggers such as the intimidating and threatening letters people receive from lenders.
Today, Money and Mental Health is launching a new campaign – Stop the Debt Threats – aimed at bringing an end to the use of intimidating and inaccessible language and content in lenders’ letters.
The charity – backed by a coalition of leading mental health and debt organisations including the Samaritans, Citizens Advice and Royal College of Psychiatrists (4) – is calling on the government to update the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which contains the rules that dictate the content and language of many creditors’ letters to people in financial difficulty.
For example, the legislation demands that lenders’ letters to people persistently struggling to make repayments on most types of credit (from overdrafts to credit and store cards, payday loans, personal loans) must include the following complex and intimidating text in full – and that this should be capitalised or put in bold:
- IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE BEFORE THE DATE SHOWN THEN THE FURTHER ACTION SET OUT BELOW MAY BE TAKEN AGAINST YOU [OR A SURETY].
- IF YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY IN PAYING ANY SUM OWING UNDER THE AGREEMENT OR TAKING ANY OTHER ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE, YOU CAN APPLY TO THE COURT WHICH MAY MAKE AN ORDER ALLOWING YOU OR ANY SURETY MORE TIME.
- IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHAT TO DO, YOU SHOULD GET HELP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. FOR EXAMPLE YOU SHOULD CONTACT A SOLICITOR, YOUR LOCAL TRADING STANDARDS DEPARTMENT OR YOUR NEAREST CITIZENS` ADVICE BUREAU.
This text is often preceded by threats of court action at the top of letters, and embedded within longer statements featuring complex information about the individual’s debt.
Money and Mental Health’s research warns that receiving these kinds of long, incomprehensible letters – especially from multiple lenders simultaneously – is leaving many people in distress, unable to see a solution to their situation and at greater risk of becoming suicidal.
Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said: “The fact a law set decades ago doesn’t just allow companies to use intimidating language when collecting debt, but near forces them to do so, causes tragedy.
The last thing those struggling with debts need is a bunch of near thuggish letters dropping through the letterbox, in a language you can’t understand, threatening you with court action. And with such a tight link between mental health and debt crisis, we know many of the people receiving these letters are extremely vulnerable.
Thankfully attitudes to mental health have come a long way in the last forty years, and it’s time the legislation followed it. These letters are destroying lives, but it doesn’t have to be like this.
We’re calling on the government to change the out-of-date legislation dictating the content of these letters. In particular, new rules are needed to make the language easier to understand, and to prominently sign post people to help not hassle. That will save lives.”
Helen Undy, Director of The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “These rules on debt collection letters were meant to make sure that people know their rights and where to get help, but they’re having the opposite effect. The intimidating and threatening language of these letters can leave people suicidal and unsure where to turn. A simple change in these out-of-date rules could genuinely save lives.
But that won’t fix everything, and we also want to see action taken to tackle the reasons why people are in this situation in the first place – from struggling to make ends meet, to relying on credit and borrowing from high-cost lenders who want to collect debts at any cost.
Each life lost to suicide is tragic and preventable. By taking steps to identify and better support people in problem debt, the government and the lenders can save more families from the utter devastation that suicide brings.”
To find out more about Money and Mental Health’s ‘Stop the Debt Threats’ campaign, visit https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/debt-threats/
Suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable. Financial problems can always be resolved. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal feelings, financial difficulties or mental health problems there is advice and support out there.
Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs, 0207 848 1448, firstname.lastname@example.org for all media enquiries including interviews with spokespeople. CASE STUDIES AVAILABLE.
Notes to Editors
(1) Analysis of the national Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2014), undertaken by NatCen on behalf of Money and Mental Health, published here for the first time.
(2) Problem debt is here defined as falling seriously behind on payments for bills or credit agreements, or having been disconnected by a utilities provider in the past year.
(3) Responses from an open call for input from 205 people with lived or professional experience of suicidality.
(4) The full list of organisations backing the campaign includes the Samaritans, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind, StepChange, Young Minds, Rethink Mental Illness, Christians Against Poverty, Mental Health UK, Hafal, Support in Mind, Think Ahead, Centre for Mental Health, Z2K, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and Advice UK.