1.3m people with mental health problems have cut back on food and energy to keep up with mortgage payments
25 January 2024
- Homeowners with mental health problems are more likely to have cut back on food, energy and other essentials to keep up with mortgage payments, and are also at greater risk of falling behind on mortgage bills compared to other homeowners.
- That’s the warning of new research published today by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which shows that as many as 1.3 million people with mental health problems are spending less on essentials to keep up with mortgage payments.
- The report also highlights that many mortgage holders with mental health problems are struggling to access vital support from lenders to help with mortgage difficulties.
- Money and Mental Health is calling on lenders to proactively identify and reach out to customers who are struggling with payments, and to make support measures more inclusive and accessible for people with mental health problems.
- With 1.6m more households rolling off fixed-rate deals and facing significant payment hikes in 2024, urgent action from lenders is needed to help more homeowners avoid distress and financial harm.
The new Money and Mental Health research explores the devastating impact of interest rate rises on mortgage holders with mental health problems – and highlights the barriers they face to accessing vital support from lenders.
While many mortgage holders in the last 18 months have been forced to reduce their spending in other areas to keep up with higher repayments, the impact has been particularly acute for the three in ten mortgage holders who have mental health problems.
The research found that this group are significantly more likely than those without mental health problems to have taken drastic action in order to cover their mortgage costs, and are at greater risk of falling into arrears. New nationally representative YouGov polling of 2,150 UK adults (1) featured in the research found mortgage holders with mental health problems are:
- More likely to have cut spending on essentials like food, energy and medicine to keep up with mortgage repayments, compared to people without mental health problems (30% vs 21%). When reflected at a national level, this equates to 1.3 million mortgage holders with mental health problems cutting back on essentials.
- Twice as likely to have used savings to keep up with mortgage payments (29% vs 15%) and to have reduced their spending on essential maintenance and repairs to their home (27% vs 14%).
- At greater risk of falling behind on mortgage payments. 50% of mortgagors with mental health problems say they wouldn’t be able to afford the £220 increase in monthly mortgage payments, which the Bank of England estimated in September 2023 would be the typical hike in costs for mortgage holders rolling off a fixed rate deal (2). In comparison, 41% of mortgage holders without mental health problems said they couldn’t afford this rise (41%).
Mortgage hikes causing distress as well as financial hardship
Difficulty maintaining mortgage payments is an inevitable source of stress and anxiety. However, the charity’s research shows that for some the psychological toll can be extreme, and is being made worse by actions from creditors. That includes bombarding people with intimidating letters, phone calls and messages when they’ve fallen behind – which can cause huge levels of distress.
An in-depth survey by Money and Mental Health of 219 mortgage holders with mental health problems also showed how this anxiety and stress can exacerbate symptoms of poor mental health – and in turn make it harder to engage with support (3). In extreme cases, the charity heard from people whose mortgage difficulties were contributing to them feeling suicidal.
Support measures are not accessible enough
Money and Mental Health’s research warns that many mortgage holders who are struggling with payments are missing out on critical support measures from lenders that could help them better manage their mortgage payments, such as help switching to a more affordable deal or forbearance measures like payment holidays or reduced payment plans.
The report shows that many mortgage holders are unaware of available support, with the national polling showing that only three in ten (29%) mortgage holders say they are aware of the Mortgage Charter introduced by the government in June 2023 to increase awareness of support for mortgage holders struggling in the face of higher interest rates.
This is a particularly serious problem for mortgage holders with mental health problems, whose symptoms can make it more challenging to get help in the first place. The polling revealed that only three in ten (29%) mortgage holders with mental health problems thought their provider had done a good job of communicating available support in the last 18 months.
It also showed that two-thirds (65%) of mortgage holders with mental health problems said they would feel anxious about reaching out to their mortgage provider if they were struggling to keep up with payments, compared to 41% without mental health problems.
How mortgage lenders should improve support for people who are struggling
Money and Mental Health is calling on mortgage lenders to increase awareness of the support available and to better meet the needs of people with mental health problems in mortgage difficulty by:
- Being more proactive in informing and reminding customers of the support on offer, utilising customer data where possible to identify and target customers most at risk of experiencing payment difficulties.
- Ensuring that all customer-facing staff are trained in how to support people with mental health problems and the practical adjustments they may require, such as spending more time making sure they understand information or providing written summaries following discussions with lenders.
- Making support easier to access, for example by routinely recording customers preferences around communications channels and using their preferred channel when reaching out with support.
Commenting on the new research, Conor D’Arcy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said:
“The prospect of losing your home because you can’t keep up with payments can be terrifying. That’s why lots of worried homeowners will be relieved to see mortgage rates starting to fall. But our research finds that the last year has been extremely tough for many mortgage holders, particularly those with mental health problems. For those coming to the end of a cheap deal in 2024, the outlook can still be a frightening one. That’s why it’s vital that lenders and the government act now to ease the burden on people who are facing impossible decisions just to keep up with their mortgage payments.
“The good news is there are options available if you are struggling. We’re calling on lenders to make that help as accessible as possible for the one in three mortgage holders with mental health problems. When you’re struggling with your mental health, simple tasks like cleaning your teeth can be difficult, never mind picking up the phone to tell your lenders that you don’t know how you’re going to afford your next payment. It’s crucial that mortgage lenders understand these practical challenges, identify those at risk and reach out to them through a channel that suits them. Doing that would make a huge difference in reducing the stress that can come with mortgage difficulties, and help people experiencing poor mental health to get the support they need.”
To set up an interview or for any other media enquiries, please contact Rachel Fergusson, External Affairs Officer at Money and Mental Health, on 07935 216 804 or [email protected].
Notes to Editors
(1) Money and Mental Health analysis of YouGov online polling of 2150 UK adults in September 18-19 2023. 630 of this cohort had experienced mental health problems in the last two years.
(2) The Bank of England has recently upgraded its estimate of the new additional costs for mortgage holders coming off fixed rates to £240 per month.
(3) An online survey of the Money and Mental Health Research Community, a group of nearly 5,000 people with lived experience of mental health problems. In total, 219 respondents completed the survey on people’s experiences of keeping up with their mortgage between August 4 and 15, 2023.
- 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.
- Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author. He founded MoneySavingExpert.com in 2003 for £100 and remains its full-time Editor-in-Chief. It is now the UK’s biggest money site, with more than 14 million monthly users. Martin has his own prime-time ITV programme – The Martin Lewis Money Show – and is resident expert on This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Consumer Panel, among others.