Creditors should give people being treated for serious mental health issues more time, MPs say

Exclusive: Labour's Luciana Berger warns of a 'vicious cycle' for people trying to deal with mounting debts while getting mental health treatment

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 09 April 2018 00:49
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Luciana Berger has
Luciana Berger has

People receiving treatment for serious mental health issues should be given a reprieve from being hassled by creditors to stop them becoming trapped by spiralling debts, MPs have said.

Labour’s Luciana Berger is leading a cross-party bid to change the law to help an estimated 23,000 people in England who are struggling with problem debt whilst in hospital for their mental health.

Some 73 MPs have backed amendments to the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, led by Ms Berger, Tory MP Johnny Mercer and former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb, which would extend plans for the “breathing space” period to everyone receiving crisis mental health care.

Ministers are considering a six-week grace period for people in problem debt – but MPs want it extended to cover people accessing mental health crisis care, who may lose their jobs or fall behind on payments while in hospital.

Ms Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said it was a “vicious cycle” for people who are trying to deal with mounting debts while getting mental health treatment.

She told The Independent: “It is close to impossible for people to get out of debt if they have just come out of inpatient care.

“I speak to constituents about this all the time. There is a clear relationship between mental health and debt.

“23,000 of the most vulnerable people are affected here and the government needs to do something to help them. What’s the point in these powers if they do not extend to the most vulnerable people in the country?”

Lee, an IT worker from Greater Manchester, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, said he fell into £32,000 of debt after struggling to control his spending during manic episodes.

His financial worries led to him attempting suicide twice, while aggressive debt collectors pursued him by climbing into his garden or parking across his driveway to block him into his house.

Another bailiff refused to go until Lee handed over his father’s credit card details – despite Lee saying he was suicidal.

The 42-year-old, who has now paid off his debts, told The Independent: “I think if I could have had that space to breathe, a time to get my mental health in order, then maybe I could have got my financial house in order a lot earlier.

“When you are struggling to deal with your mental health, it’s hard enough to deal with the things you should be.

“Although you’ve got yourself into that debt, you have to get yourself out, but it’s not a priority when you’ve got to buy food or pay for gas.”

He added: “The finance side of things took me to some of the darkest places of my mental health that I’ve ever been.”

Helen Undy, head of external affairs at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said more than 1,700 people had signed a letter to the chancellor calling for the scheme to be brought in.

She said: “When you’re in a mental health crisis – potentially feeling suicidal, hearing voices or experiencing panic attacks – it can be hard to cope with day-to-day life or to keep yourself safe.

“So for most people, getting debt advice or dealing with the threat of bailiffs at the door is an impossible task.

“These amendments would make sure that the government’s new debt respite scheme applies to everyone using NHS mental health crisis services.

“They would give people in crisis a break from fees, charges and collections activity on their debts, giving them the time and space they need to recover.”

The government is currently considering responses to its consultation on bringing in a six-week grace period, without fees, charges, interest or debt collection in that time.

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