Helen Undy, Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health

Treasury Select Committee backs our Stop the #DebtThreats campaign

13 May 2019

It’s Mental Health Awareness week – and normally that means me writing something about how awareness needs to be matched by practical action to actually improve the lives of people with mental health problems.

But this year is a little bit different. I’m really delighted that the Treasury Select Committee has kicked off Mental Health Awareness Week with clear, concrete and punchy action calling for sweeping changes from banks, regulators and government to improve financial outcomes for people with mental health problems in response to our evidence. Not only that, but they’ve backed our campaign for the government to end intimidating ‘debt threat’ letters that we know can cause real distress. The Government has 60 days to respond to the committee’s report, so now is the perfect time to sign our petition to stop the debt threats, and help us pile on the pressure.

Today’s report is a huge step forward for our work. From debt collection letters to access to travel insurance, spending controls to access to cash – one of the most influential committees of MPs has listened to our evidence, and agreed with our assessment of what needs to change.

Stop the #DebtThreats

Every year over 100,000 people in England alone consider suicide while they are struggling in problem debt. That’s 100,000 people like Jerome Rogers, who took his own life at the age of just 20, while being pursued by bailiffs. Every single life lost, or suicide attempted, is a tragedy – but 100,000 every year in the midst of escalating debt is nothing short of a scandal.

We know that the intimidating and outdated debt collection letters that people get from creditors can be a trigger for feelings of despair and hopelessness. We’re calling on the government to update the content of these letters, which is set out in law, so that they are easier to understand, and prominently signpost people to help.

We’re delighted that the influential Treasury Select Committee has today thrown its weight behind this campaign, and we’ll be eagerly awaiting the Government’s response.

Travel insurance

Last summer we published research showing that people with mental health problems are struggling to get access to travel insurance or being charged enormous premiums, even when their conditions were historic or had a minimal impact on their lives. We were disappointed by the response from the financial regulator (the FCA) which focused primarily on improving signposting to specialist insurers rather than dealing with this problem that affects half of consumers in the mainstream market, as 50% will experience a mental health problem at some time in their lives.

We’re very pleased to see that the Treasury Select Committee has backed this position, stating:

“…the FCA recommends consumers facing discriminatory pricing use more specialist companies that understand their individual circumstances better. This is not an adequate response to discrimination in breach of the Equality Act. While it may be the case that customers can seek a quicker solution by using a specialist insurer, illegal discrimination must be addressed by regulators.”

The Committee also described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ that the FCA chose not to look at individual firms’ data to check whether their risk and pricing models for people with disabilities breach the Equality Act. We hope that the Government will respond by requiring further action from the FCA on this issue.

Spending controls and a cashless society

We also published research at the end of 2018 on the impact of a ‘cashless society’ for people with mental health problems. We found that many people with mental health problems rely on cash for budgeting, to control spending or allow a carer to help with managing their money or spending. We called for access to cash to be protected, and for further progress made to ensure that digital payments can better meet these needs through tools like spending controls, carers cards and budgeting tools.

We’re pleased that the Committee recommends the Government implements recommendations from the recent Access to Cash review, as well as calling on more banks to implement gambling blocks and other spending controls like the ones introduced by Monzo, Starling and Barclays. With commitments already made by Lloyds, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Santander to introduce the blocks this year, we hope that this will soon become a default option available from all major banks.

Start the 60 day countdown

The members of the Treasury Select Committee have definitely earned their green ribbons this Mental Health Awareness Week, and the Government is due to respond before MPs leave for their summer break in July. We’ll be working hard to keep up the pressure, and you can really help us to make sure this report isn’t swept under the carpet. Please sign our petition to Stop the Debt Threats, share it with your friends and family, or get in touch with your MP to ask them to write to the Treasury and back the campaign.