Millions of people with mental health problems say they are missing out on Equality Act protections from banks and energy companies
2 February 2022
- Many essential services providers are likely to be failing to meet legal duties set out in the Equality Act 2010, which requires them to anticipate and address the needs of customers with mental health problems.
- This is the warning of new research published today (2 February 2022) by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute charity.
- It shows that under the Equality Act, around 9.5m people in the UK with mental health problems could be entitled to extra support from businesses, to access services such as banking, energy and broadband.
- However, only 3 in 10 people with mental health problems say they have received this support — leaving many struggling to use these vital services, and suggesting that many firms are not meeting their legal duties.
- Moreover, around one in three people who told an essential services provider that they have a mental health problem say they were not offered any additional support, as required for those protected under the Equality Act.
- Money and Mental Health is calling on essential services firms to ensure they are meeting their Equality Act obligations to support customers with mental health problems.
- The charity is also calling on the Equality and Human Rights Commission — which enforces the Act — to investigate whether firms are breaking the law.
The new Money and Mental Health report (supported by Impact on Urban Health) examines the legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 that essential services firms such as banks, energy providers and water companies (1) have towards customers with mental health problems.
It shows that under the Equality Act — legislation introduced to protect people from discrimination — essential services firms are obliged to provide additional support to ensure that customers with mental health problems and other disabilities are not disadvantaged by their condition (2). For example, Money and Mental Health’s research shows that many people with mental health problems face challenges such as severe ‘admin anxiety’ and serious difficulties using the phone, which can make it harder to use essential services.
In particular, the Equality Act compels firms to anticipate the challenges that customers with mental health problems might face in using essential services, and to provide reasonable adjustments to support them. These could include giving people extra help with decision-making and reminders to help them manage their account, or allowing them to opt-out of certain types of communication channels (3).
The charity’s analysis shows that around 9.5m people with mental health problems in the UK are likely to be entitled to these legal protections, but only a minority say they are receiving them. National polling (4) undertaken by Opinium on behalf of Money and Mental Health shows that:
- Only three in ten (29%) people with mental health problems say that essential service providers usually anticipate and meet their needs, as required for those protected under the Equality Act.
- Around one in three people with mental health problems said they were not offered any reasonable adjustments even after telling an essential services firm that they had a mental health condition, as required for those protected under the Equality Act (5).
- People told Money and Mental Health that they were ignored or even treated with contempt after disclosing a mental health problem to an essential services provider.
- Less than a third of people (32%) with mental health problems say they have been asked by most of their essential services providers if they have any needs that would affect their ability to use services. This is a crucial step for firms in meeting their Equality Act requirements.
- These problems are having a major psychological impact on people already struggling with mental health problems — more than a third of whom (37%) say that dealing with an essential services provider has resulted in significant levels of anxiety.
- They are also leaving vulnerable people effectively unable to use vital services, and at greater risk of financial harm in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
The research also highlights that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) — which enforces the Equality Act — is failing to investigate whether essential services are complying with their duties. This leaves vulnerable consumers essentially powerless and missing out on Equality Act protections, as so few have the resources to take their bank or energy company to court to get the help they are legally entitled to.
Money and Mental Health is calling on essential services firms to ensure they are not in breach of the Equality Act, by providing basic reasonable adjustments to address the most common challenges that customers with mental health problems face.
The charity is also calling on the EHRC to investigate whether firms are meeting their legal duties under the Act, and to take action if firms are not complying.
Commenting on the research findings, Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:
“The Equality Act exists to ensure that anyone who has a disability can access basic services like banking, broadband and energy. In recent years businesses have made welcome efforts to help people with physical and sensory disabilities use their services, like adding wheelchair ramps or sign language interpreters. But time and time again, people with mental health problems appear to be forgotten.
“If firms ignore their Equality Act duties, they are not only exposing vulnerable people to potential hardship and distress, they are breaking the law. But this won’t be a priority for firms unless they are held accountable for it. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is failing to enforce the Act in these crucial sectors, and so the legal protections it offers can feel meaningless. And realistically, how many of us would be able to take our bank to court to get the help we need?
“With so many people facing a bleak year ahead, it’s vital that firms and regulators act to ensure that people with mental health problems can easily access the services we all rely upon.”
To set up an interview or for any other media enquiries, please contact Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at Money and Mental Health, on 07595 439 638 / 07935 216 804 or [email protected]
|NOTES TO EDITORS
This report does not examine the behaviour of individual firms, but instead explores trends across essential services sectors, based on the experiences of customers with mental health problems.
This research was supported by Impact on Urban Health. It represents the research and views solely of the authors and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, and does not represent the views or experiences of Urban Health.
(1) Essential services are here defined as energy, utilities, financial services and telecoms firms
(2) Anyone who has a mental health problem that has a substantial or lasting impact on day to day life is eligible for these protections
(3) Basic reasonable adjustments could include:
(4) Opinium online survey of 2,000 people, carried out 29 October – 2 November 2021. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.
(5) Opinium online survey of 5,000 people with mental health problems, carried out 25 June – 22 July 2021. Data is weighted to be nationally representative. The breakdown per sector in terms of share of people who disclosed a mental health problem but did not receive additional support is as follows:
About the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute:
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is an independent charity set up by Martin Lewis, committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems. We conduct research, develop practical policy solutions and work in partnership with both those providing services and those using them to find what really works. www.moneyandmentalhealth.org