“It’s time to stop people in mental health crisis being hassled over debt” 

Charities call for ‘Breathing Space’ scheme to be extended to the 23,000 people battling debts while hospitalised due to their mental health last year.

  • New analysis of national data by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute estimates that 23,000 people in England were struggling in problem debt last year whilst in hospital for their mental health.
  • This group are likely to be receiving calls and emails from banks, credit card companies, local authorities and other creditors whilst in acute distress, potentially feeling suicidal. Thousands more were in a similar position whilst receiving mental health crisis support in the community.
  • The charity, founded by Martin Lewis, has brought together a coalition of leading mental health and debt organisations to call on the government to extend the proposed ‘breathing space’ scheme to cover people in mental health crisis.
  • Case studies available

Under current government proposals out for consultation, people in problem debt would be given a fixed period without fees, charges, interest or collections activity if they seek debt advice. This is intended to allow time to get on top of debts before they spiral out of control, but would not support the tens of thousands of people in mental health crisis who are too unwell to either manage their finances alone, or to seek debt advice.

The broad coalition of organisations, including Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, StepChange and Carers UK, led by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, are today calling for the government to extend ‘breathing space’ to people in mental health crisis. Without this, Money and Mental Health’s research has found that tens of thousands people are trapped in a spiral of escalating debts and worsening mental health. The charity found instances of people who had:

  • Received a court summons for debts whilst they were in hospital as a result of their mental health, finding letters on their doorstep when they were discharged
  • Missed payments for bills whilst in hospital and unable to access their account, which then led to escalating fees and charges
  • Attempted suicide after receiving contact from bailiffs about escalating debts whilst receiving emergency mental health support.

The extension to the Breathing Space scheme would apply to anyone accessing psychiatric inpatient care, or the care of a Crisis Resolution Team.

Martin Lewis, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said:

“It’s time to stop people in mental health crisis being hassled over debt, which risks making recovery harder, and means they’ll be even less likely to repay creditors in future.

“I long campaigned for breathing space for those in crisis debt – but for those having a short period of acute mental illness; suffering panic attacks, unable to open post, call the bank, or even think coherently – going to a debt counsellor in order to call a halt to things is just impossible.

“Extending the breathing space scheme so that it gives people recovery space could genuinely save lives, allowing people to focus on getting better rather than cowering at the worry of bailiffs at the door.  And with the tragically common marriage of mental illness and debt, the simplest way to do it is assume all in serious mental health crisis are likely to be struggling with their cash.

“I do hope the government will see the sense in this and act quickly to help.”

A quarter of people with mental health problems are also in problem debt. ‘Recovery Space’, the new report published today by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, is the first in-depth study of the financial experiences of people in mental health crisis and their carers. Read the full report at



Helen Undy, 07827917829, [email protected] for all media enquiries including interviews with spokespeople.

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 banks, lenders, 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 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.
  • Recovery Space: Minimising the financial harm caused by mental health crisis was kindly supported by The Barrow Cadbury Trust
  • This report presents the findings of new depth research with:
    • 166 people with lived experience of mental health crisis
    • 46 carers who have supported someone through a crisis and
    • 93 mental health practitioners who work directly with people in crisis.
  • It combines surveys, 36 depth interviews and three focus groups to explore the challenges people face in maintaining financial control during a crisis, and the barriers carers and practitioners must overcome in order to provide support. Further details on methodology can be found at
  • The proposed extension to the Breathing Space scheme would apply to anyone accessing psychiatric inpatient care, or the care of a Crisis Resolution Team. This should apply
    • On the initiation of health and social care staff
    • For the same duration as the main Breathing Space scheme, with the possibility of extension after review
    • Across financial services, other essential services firms, local authorities, housing associations and DWP
    • It should not preclude people from also accessing the Breathing Space scheme if they later meet the debt criteria.
  • The estimate that 23,000 people are in financial difficulties while admitted to hospital for a mental health problem each year is derived from NHS Digital Mental Health Bulletin 2016-17, which provides information on the number of people admitted to hospital for mental health problems each year, and Jenkins R et al. Debt, income and mental disorder in the general population. Psychological Medicine 2008; 38: 1485-1493 which shows that 23.2% of people with a mental health problem are in problem debt.