A universal priority services register can only succeed if it is developed in partnership with people in vulnerable circumstances.

16 November 2023

That’s the warning of new research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which looks at the opportunities and risks presented by a universal priority services register (PSR).

The aim of this initiative would be to enable people to disclose vulnerabilities such as mental health problems or support needs on a ‘tell us once’ basis — and for this data to then be shared across multiple essential services firms to improve support. 

Priority services registers already exist within the energy and water sectors, and earlier this year the energy regulator Ofgem called for the introduction of a ‘universal’ priority services register covering all sectors. This could also build on other customer vulnerability data-sharing initiatives which offer a single portal for consumers to share support needs and information to multiple organisations.

Money and Mental health’s research shows that a universal PSR could reduce the distress many people experience when having to repeatedly share sensitive details with different firms, and make it easier for people to disclose vulnerabilities. It could also enable essential services providers to identify and proactively support customers who might be struggling. 

However, the research also warns that this kind of initiative can only succeed if people with lived experience of mental health problems and other challenges are meaningfully consulted on its design and development.

In a new survey of 182 people with lived experience of mental health problems carried out by the charity (1), people highlighted a number of concerns about a potential universal priority services register, including:

  • Knowing how your information will be used, stored and protected
  • Being able to easily update or remove your information at any time
  • Being confident organisations will act on the information you provide
  • Having control over which organisations your information is and isn’t shared with.

Currently, only a minority of consumers with mental health problems disclose to their essential services providers. Previous polling by Money and Mental Health found that just 11% of customers with mental health problems had ever disclosed to their water company, with 12% having disclosed to their energy company, 13% to a telecoms firm and 14% to their financial services provider (2).

It shows that fear of negative treatment, a lack of understanding from staff and little faith that disclosing would make a difference to the support they received are key barriers that prevent consumers from telling their provider about their mental health problem. 

Conor D’Arcy, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, commented: 

A ‘tell us once’ approach to support needs and vulnerabilities could make a huge difference for people with mental health problems, taking the stress and uncertainty out of what can be a difficult experience and  getting extra support to those who need it.

But for this kind of initiative to succeed, it is critical that people who would most benefit from the service have a meaningful say in how it’s developed. People tell us that they have real concerns about losing control over how their data is used and stored, or that this kind of sensitive information could be used against them. These are serious risks that need to be addressed, and the best way to do that is to put lived experiences at the heart of its design.

We urge government, regulators and firms to work together to ensure that any initiative like this is developed in partnership with the people in vulnerable circumstances. Otherwise it simply won’t succeed in meeting the needs of the people it is intended to help.”





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Notes to Editors

  • The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.
  • It conducts research and develops policies for essential services firms, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.