Merlyn Holkar, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Research Community members help improve support for people with money problems

28 May 2021

Money problems are a common cause of stress and anxiety, but the way that creditors communicate with people in this situation makes a huge difference. Aggressive demands for repayment can take a real toll on our mental health and wellbeing, while supportive messages from lenders can be reassuring. At Money and Mental Health we’re dedicated to improving how people with money problems are treated, helping more people to get help early and reducing the negative impact of financial problems on our mental health.

We’re delighted to have worked with the Financial Conduct Authority – the financial regulator – to improve key information sheets that are sent out to everyone in the country who falls behind on debt repayments. These practical changes will make a real difference for people facing debt problems during the pandemic, and for years to come.

What difference do letters make?

Our research has found that even small differences in the tone and design of letters about debt can make a big difference to the people that receive them. At its worst, alarming or threatening language can leave people feeling trapped and hopeless, like there is no way out of their financial problems. Nationally, people with debt problems are three times as likely to have thought about suicide in the past year, and intimidating debt collection practices can pile on the pressure and contribute to this increased risk.

“The letters make me afraid to open more. They make me feel less of a man as I can’t cope sometimes… It’s tough knowing I was once lively, outgoing and fun. But now introverted, afraid of brown envelopes and in debt.” Research Community member

On the other hand, sensitive, well-designed letters can have a huge positive impact. However bad the financial problem, free, independent help is out there. But it doesn’t always feel that way. Letters that include prominent messages of reassurance and information about free debt advice services can be a real turning point, helping people to see a way out and start to practically address their financial problems.

“I truly felt that someone was holding my hand and giving guidance to sort out my debt problem once and for all. They worked with me not against me.” Research Community member

How did the Research Community help?

Our biggest strength at Money and Mental Health is our Research Community – a group of over 5,000 people (as of April 2021) with personal experience of mental health problems, who share their experiences and views with us and are at the heart of everything we do.

To help the FCA improve its information sheets, more than 300 members of our Research Community reviewed a draft version of the sheets and gave feedback. Our members helped the regulator to understand how these sheets would be received by people with mental health problems, and gave practical feedback on everything from the language used, to the information provided and the way that it was organised. This week the regulator announced that it will introduce new versions of its information sheets from October, designed to be more supportive and include new information about mental health support for those who are struggling.

Half of people with a debt problem also have a mental health problem, so it’s really welcome that the FCA has sought to understand the needs and views of this group when redesigning its letters. Small changes like this can save lives.

“Thank you and the FCA for all you’re doing to help people like me get help to function and sort out traumatic issues and situations. I’ve been suicidal over debt before. It’s good to know there is help not just available, but that there is specific need acknowledged, to impart that message to those who are in the position I was.” Research Community member

What next?

The new FCA information sheets are a big step forward, but we’ll keep working until all communications sent to people with money problems are as supportive as possible.

Through our Mental Health Accessible programme we work with banks, energy companies and other essential service providers, to help them design debt communications that minimise distress to their customers and maximise help-seeking behaviour.

Please note that as the new FCA information sheets are not officially live until October, some of the links might not work. In the meantime, you can find information and support on the FCA’s current sheets (halfway down this page) or on our Get help page.

Sign up to join our Research Community here.