Helen Undy, Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health
Five gold things...reasons to be cheerful in 2020
20 December 2019
It seems everyone is making lists. Christmas lists, to-do lists, resolutions and – as now seems to be the tradition on Twitter – lists of successes. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating personal achievements, but sometimes seeing other people achieving their #goals when we’ve not had the greatest year can leave us feeling like we come up short. And heading into a rainy Christmas after a general election that didn’t seem to bring out the best in anyone, good news stories can seem few and far between. So this is far from a list of my successes, it’s not even a list of our team’s successes – it’s a list of ‘five gold things’ (geddit?!); things that are better now than they were this time last year, to bring a little ray of hope on some of the shortest days of the year.
1. You can (probably) turn off gambling on your bank card
This time last year three banks offered customers the option to turn off gambling transactions on their bank cards, to help protect themselves from an impulsive bet or break a pattern of harmful spending. Now a groundswell across the industry has taken us up to nine, including almost all the high street banks. At Money and Mental Health we’ve been working hard to persuade more to follow suit, and to build their gambling blocks with a ‘cooling off period’ so that you can’t just switch them off in an impulsive moment. Watch this space for more work from us on this next year.
2. You no longer have to pay to prove your mental health condition to your creditors
This time last year if you told a creditor about your mental health and asked for extra help, they’d often ask you to get evidence from a GP – evidence that one in three people were charged for. Following our Stop the Charge campaign, and with significant help from our partners in the debt, mental health and financial sectors, that all changed on October 1st. Now the guidance is clear that creditors should avoid asking for evidence wherever possible, and where they do need it, GPs in England are no longer allowed to charge. Next year we’ll be focused on securing the same change for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but for now, it’s definitely one to celebrate.
3. Banks are waking up to what accessibility means for mental health
Over half of people with mental health problems have significant difficulty making telephone calls – resulting in panic attacks, sweating or shaking when just trying to carry out essential life admin. And many more find they can’t open the post when they’re unwell, that getting to a branch is impossible, or that they get locked out of services because their mental health leaves them unable to remember passwords and PINs. This year we launched Mental Health Accessible – an initiative working with banks (and soon energy firms, telecoms, water and other essential services) to help them make their services work for people with mental health problems. We’re currently piloting it with Lloyds Bank, making their services more accessible for their 30 million customers – and next year we’re excited to be rolling it out more widely. Companies are used to making adjustments to services to make them more accessible for people with physical health problems and disabilities – 2019 was the year that mental health started the long journey to catch up.
4. Pressure to improve debt collection practices is reaching a tipping point
The last year has seen a groundswell in activity aiming to improve debt collection practices and protect people from the harm caused by intimidating letters, aggressive bailiffs and unfair charges. Our campaign to Stop the Debt Threats received support from over 30 national charities, four major banks, around 11,500 petition signatures and politicians from all sides. The Minister responsible (John Glen MP) said that tackling this was ‘top of the list’ of priorities – and he’s now back in post. As well as expecting 2020 to bring decisive action on out of date and intimidating debt letters, we will continue working with our friends in the Taking Control coalition to push for independent regulation of bailiffs. The Government promised a response on bailiff reform before the election and it’s yet to appear – so the clock is ticking. When the banks line up with charities calling for change, and it’s one of the few issues uniting politicians across the House – it’s clear that the momentum behind this is going to be hard for the government to ignore.
5. Ambitious plans are now confirmed to give people in mental health crisis ‘recovery space’ from debt collection activity
When you’re in the middle of a mental health crisis, feeling suicidal, paranoid or hearing voices, managing your money and dealing with creditors can be an impossible task. Imagine leaving a psychiatric hospital to come home to a court summons or a bailiff at the door. So here comes a really big piece of good news from 2019. This year the government responded to our Recovery Space campaign by confirming that people experiencing a mental health crisis will be exempted from charges, letters or bailiff action on their debts for as long as they are receiving mental health crisis care – giving people time and space to recover. This is part of a wider debt ‘breathing space’ scheme that is expected to come into force in late 2020 or early 2021. This is a major change that will undoubtedly save lives – and is definitely worth raising a sherry to this Christmas.