10 May 2021 | Posted In Money advice news

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) has launched an innovative new pilot to help people in mental health crisis avoid worsening debt problems, as part of its increased funding for debt advice in 2021/22.

The government-backed MaPS has committed £94.6million overall in 2021/22 to support vital debt advice services as people continue to grapple with the financial impact of the pandemic. As part of the increased funding, MaPS is investing £2.4 million in a pilot which joins up the mental health sector with debt advice services, to refer people in crisis for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space.

Under the Breathing Space scheme, which launched on 4 May 2021, people with problem debt will be given legal protections from creditors chasing them for payments and a freeze on most interest and charges on their debts for up to 60 days. A standard Breathing Space can be applied for through debt advice.

A Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space is specifically for someone who is receiving mental health crisis treatment, who may not be able to access debt advice and apply for Breathing Space themselves. It enables an application to be made on their behalf to a debt adviser, based on evidence provided by an approved mental health professional. This Breathing Space lasts for the duration of their treatment plus 30 days, to prevent their debts worsening while they are in crisis.

The pilot will be run by the charity Rethink Mental Illness over the next 12 months, and is expected to support around 6,300 people living with severe mental health problems to apply for breathing space from their debts. This will be delivered through the creation of a single online point of entry, managed by MaPS, for qualified mental health practitioners to easily refer their patients for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space. MaPS will also fund specialist Breathing Space training and support for debt advisors across the sector.

Rethink Mental Illness will process Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space referrals and support the client after they leave crisis care to provide debt advice where appropriate.

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Chief Executive at MaPS, said: 

“Even before the pandemic, 18% of people with mental health problems were also in problem debt.4  The effects of the pandemic has impacted significantly on the mental health of many, and worsened existing problems for some. We know that people in this situation may find it harder to engage with debt advice and are being chased for their debts when they are least likely to be able to deal with it. 

“The toll of coronavirus on some people’s financial wellbeing will continue to be severe and long lasting. Although many have already been helped by support schemes, and special flexibility on products such as mortgages and loans, there are likely to be challenges ahead when these come to an end. Throughout the pandemic, we have taken action to ensure more support is available to people in need of debt advice, and our increased funding for the next 12 months continues our commitment.  

“We hope that our pilot, which will refer people for Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space and help them avoid worsening debt problems while they are in crisis treatment, will support future larger scale roll out of initiatives which join up the healthcare sector with debt advice services.”

Sarah Murphy, Associate Director of Advice, Information and Training at Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“Financial worries not only present a barrier to recovery, they can also act as a catalyst to deteriorating mental health. Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space will offer a lifeline to people in problem debt who are experiencing a mental health crisis. This innovative pilot provides specialist financial support at a crucial time, so people don’t emerge from a mental health crisis to learn that their financial situation has spiralled out of control.

“We’re proud to be supporting this work to offer vital support to people severely affected by mental illness, helping them to improve their financial and mental wellbeing so they can ultimately have a better quality of life.”

Steve Chamberlain, Chair, AMHP Leads Network, said:

“Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) witness every day how the pressures of debt can be disastrous to people’s mental wellbeing, health and recovery. This additional measure to safeguard vulnerable individuals in problem debt is a welcome tool for all professionals. Having a simple and effective entry point for applications is just as important to ensure that this is an achievable task for any individual, carer or involved professional to complete. 

“AMHPs will be able to provide the necessary expertise to certify when individuals are experiencing a mental health crisis of a nature requiring the legal protections of this scheme.”