Following a high profile campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, the Government has announced that their new ‘breathing space’ debt respite scheme will be extended to cover people receiving NHS mental health crisis services.
The campaign victory comes after the charity, established by Martin Lewis, revealed that 23,000 people in England were struggling in problem debt last year whilst in hospital for their mental health.
This group are likely to be receiving calls and emails from banks, credit card companies, local authorities and other creditors whilst in acute distress, potentially feeling suicidal. Thousands more were in a similar position whilst receiving mental health crisis support in the community.
Under the new initiative, people receiving NHS mental health crisis services will be given at least six weeks free from fees, charges or collections activity on their debts while they focus on recovery.
Yesterday (23 April) campaigners delivered 10,000 letters to 11 Downing Street backing the campaign.
Under previous government proposals out for consultation, people in problem debt would be given a fixed period without fees, charges, interest or collections activity if they seek debt advice. This is intended to allow time to get on top of debts before they spiral out of control, but would not support the tens of thousands of people in mental health crisis who are too unwell to either manage their finances alone, or to seek debt advice. Following today’s announcement, people using NHS mental health crisis services will be able to access the scheme without attending debt advice.
The campaign, led by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, brought together a broad coalition of 23 organisations, including Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, StepChange and Carers UK. It received the backing of over 80 MPs from across Parliament, including Johnny Mercer MP (Conservative), Luciana Berger MP (Labour) and Norman Lamb MP (Liberal Democrat) who tabled amendments to the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill which had the final stages of its passage through Parliament today.
The government accepted the case made by the campaigners, with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, stating in his concluding statement at the end of the debate: “We commit to ensuring that people receiving NHS treatment for a mental health crisis, either in a psychiatric inpatient setting or in the community, will be provided with an alternative mechanism to access the breathing space scheme and we will see that this is developed concurrently with the main Breathing Space scheme.”
Responding, Founder and Chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Martin Lewis, said:“This move could genuinely save lives. It’s a victory for common sense – and we’re delighted the government has come on board. People in hospital with severe anxiety, depression and other difficult conditions are already struggling enough without heavy handed creditors pushing them.
Stopping those in mental health crisis being hassled over debts, will be a huge help, aiding their recovery, and in due course should also improve their likelihood of repaying what they owe one day. It’s a win-win.”
Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth Moor View, said: “I’m glad the government have been so willing to work with us on the ‘breathing space’ amendment. It’s common sense that those suffering from a mental health crisis need to prioritise their health and focus on getting better without the gnawing concern of creditors against their back. By taking away the weight of these concerns, I believe this amendment will tangibly change peoples’ lives for the better.”
Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree and President of Labour Mental Health, said: “I am pleased that the Government have recognised the importance of our proposals and committed to implementing them in practice. This scheme will provide essential and sometimes life-saving support to tens of thousands of people in mental health crises. There is so much more to do to ensure that the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, but this is certainly an extremely welcome step in the right direction.”
Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and former Minister of State for Care and Support, said: “The last thing someone who is being treated for a serious mental health condition needs is the stress and anxiety of having to deal with debt, which becomes a barrier to recovery. In extending this scheme, the Government will be saving a significant amount of money in the long run but it also has the potential to save lives. We know that anxiety about debt is a clear risk factor in terms of suicidal ideation and actual suicide. There is nothing more important than saving lives.”
Read the full report making the case for Recovery Space at www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/recoveryspacereport