Joanna Elson OBE, Chief executive of the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline.

Training creditors to help reduce the human impact of debt

Creditors need practical support to improve on mental health


Every day our advisers at National Debtline and Business Debtline help people suffering not only from the financial impact of problem debt, but from the enormous human impact of money problems as well. This human impact cannot be underestimated – on our relationships, physical health and mental wellbeing in particular.

This month the Money Advice Trust launched Borrowed Years, a spotlight on young people, credit and debt which explored the impact that money worries are having on the wellbeing of 18 to 24 year olds in particular. Our research found that half of this age group (51 percent) regularly worry about money, with a worrying 21 percent suffering sleepless nights as a result.

At a time in their lives when they should be flourishing, too many young people are being weighed down by debt – and across all age groups, money problems are having a sometimes devastating impact on our wellbeing.


Increased focus on mental health
In an impressively short space of time, the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute has already made great progress in increasing attention on the impact of debt on mental health in particular – building on the previous work of the Money Advice Liaison Group and others to put this issue on the agenda.

As its Money on your Mind report illustrated, experiencing financial problems can put huge strain on your time and mental energy, exclude you from your support network and ultimately lead directly to anxiety, worry and depression.

The actions of creditors and other financial services firms, too, can sometimes exacerbate these problems – and while creditor practice is improving, there remains a great deal of work to be done to ensure that customers with mental health problems receive the experience they deserve.

I became intimately familiar with many of these issues in my recent role as Chair of the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce, launched by the British Bankers’ Association to bring together industry, charities and consumer groups to examine the crucial issue of vulnerable customers in the round. You can read our recommendations in full here,


Progress being made
Fortunately, thanks in part to the work of the Taskforce, mental health and vulnerability more widely has never been higher on the agenda for creditors and other financial services firms. One of the Taskforce’s most significant recommendations was the necessity of training for staff across organisations. We found that staff overwhelmingly strive to achieve the best experience and outcomes, but often lack the confidence and tools to deal with these issues– and we must address this gap to make progress on this crucial agenda.

This month the Money Advice Trust has been pleased to launch our new mental health training for firms, which provides practical tools and support to help staff recognise and respond to customers with mental health problems. Through this e-learning and face-to-face training, developed by experts including Chris Fitch (a member of the Money & Mental Health advisory board), and the Trust’s broader consultancy work on vulnerability, we are working with a growing number of creditors to improve and spread best practice.

This work complements our free Wiseradviser training on mental health for money and debt advisers and new vulnerability guidance for advice agencies launched this summer.

There is a long way to go, but with these developments and the renewed focus on this area from industry and the advice sector, I have never been more confident that we can tackle these challenges. We look forward to working with Money & Mental Health and others across the sector to make sure that we do.