Nikki Bond, Interim Head of Research and Policy, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Access to debt advice: the needs of people with serious mental health problems

2 April 2024

Mainstream debt advice services are ill-suited to the needs of people with severe mental illness and in crisis (SMI). Common symptoms of SMI can mean people are at serious risk of financial harm when acutely unwell. Yet, these symptoms can make accessing and engaging with mainstream debt advice impossible. 

A trio of challenges, including shame and hopelessness, capability limitations, and simply being too unwell, mean that people with SMI need a service that understands how mental health problems can impact their capabilities and services that are tailored to their needs. 

As a priority, HM Treasury and the Money and Pensions Service should invest in a specialist mental health and debt advice service targeted at people with SMI and in crisis. This service should be designed and delivered around the needs of people with SMI and:

  • Offer support proactively and reach out to people with SMI 
  • Deliver the service (remotely and in-person) where people with SMI are – in psychiatric hospitals and Community Mental Health services 
  • Equip advisors with the training to understand how SMI can impact people’s capabilities
  • Offer casework as standard and tailor tasks to people’s capabilities 
  • Train advisors to deliver welfare rights support in tandem with debt advice 
  • Design a Quality Assurance framework around the needs of people with SMI

A specialist service should be ring-fenced for people with SMI or in crisis. This would ensure the needs of people with SMI in accessing debt advice are catered for and go a long way to ensuring those most at risk of harm to their finances and mental health are supported.