Codes of Practice and guidelines
Although you may find it difficult to talk to creditors and other organisations about money issues when you are unwell. You might find it easier and have more confidence if you know more about the various laws and guidance that are there to protect you, and offer you more support to you if you are vulnerable or suffering with your mental health.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act protects people from discrimination in society. You can be protected under the Equality Act if you have a mental health condition and are classed as disabled. This means organisations like the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) may have to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ because of your mental health. This might mean providing extra support to help you claim a benefit, or taking your condition into account if you struggle to keep appointments.
If you are in work and have a mental health condition your employer also has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. This could mean things like changing your hours, providing extra support to manage workload or making changes to the workspace. If you are applying for a job this also applies to potential employers.
Credit Debt, Banks, Loans, Overdrafts
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is now responsible for regulating firms that provide financial products like banks, payday lenders and credit card companies. The FCA Consumer Credit Sourcebook (CONC) Chapter 8 includes rules and guidance on how customers should be treated. The FCA rules say that all firms must have specific policies and procedures for dealing with vulnerable customers who fall behind with payments, this includes people with mental health difficulties.
The Standards of Lending Practice for Personal Customers is a voluntary code of practice followed by most banks and credit firms. The code of practice says firms should have policies in place to identify customers who are or may be vulnerable and should have skilled staff to deal with those customers appropriately. They also say when customers who are in financial difficulty are vulnerable they should be dealt with sympathetically and positively. These rules and guidance now mean that if you tell creditors about your mental health and how it has made it difficult to manage your money you will often be offered extra support. Many organisations now have dedicated teams who are specifically trained to help you.
Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG)
The Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG) has produced Good Practice Awareness Guidelines for helping consumers with mental health conditions and debt. You might find it useful to refer to this if you are asking for extra help from a creditor or if you are asking them to consider writing off a debt because of your health condition.
MALG has also created the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. This form may be given to you by a debt adviser or creditor to ask for information about your mental illness from health and social care professionals. Creditors can then use the information to help them make decisions about how to deal with your account. This Information will be kept on file for as long is needed for their business purposes. This information is not allowed to be shared with other organisations.
Creditors should not use the information you have given to make lending decisions in the future. However, they may ask further questions about your condition to make sure they are lending responsibly. If you think the Debt and Mental Health Evidence form will help your situation you should seek advice from organisation who can provide free debt advice.
Debt & Mental Health Evidence Form
The Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF) is a standard form.
It is used to ask health and social care professionals for evidence of your circumstances. It was designed to make it easier to collect this information for you and your creditors.
Once the form is completed, it can be photocopied and sent to all your creditors.
The DMHEF is usually given to you by a debt adviser or your creditors. You can get a copy from the people who designed it, the Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG), but MALG can't help you with it or answer questions, they just helped design the form.
Electricity - If you need to find out who supplies your electricity then you can contact your local distribution company using the numbers below:
SP Energy Networks
0330 1010 300
Western Power Distribution
0800 096 3080
If you owe money to the council for things like council tax or housing benefit, or you need extra help with completing council forms it is worth asking the council if they have a ‘Vulnerability’ and ‘Anti-Poverty’ policy which may mean you can get extra support or consideration. Find out who your local council is.
Bailiffs /Enforcement Agents
If you have council tax arrears or a court judgement or a fine, an enforcement agent (also known as a bailiff) may be instructed to collect the debt. All bailiffs are required to follow The Taking Control Of Goods: National Standards. This sets out minimum standards bailiffs should follow and this includes guidance on dealing with vulnerable people.
If you have not paid your TV licence and you are vulnerable, the licensing company should adhere to their vulnerability policy when dealing with you. Not paying your TV licence is an illegal offence and can lead to prosecution, however, the licensing company also have a Prosecution policy (section 7.4.2 [f]) which says they will take into account a persons vulnerability at the time when considering whether or not to prosecute.
Water and Utility Companies
All water and utility companies have schemes which allow their customers to register for additional support and you can ask to be registered if you have a mental health condition. If you register you could get extra support if you struggle with paying your bills or if you have a disability and you need extra support if there is a problem with your fuel or water supply.
Water - The Consumer Council for Water produce a leaflet that explains more about what support is available especially if you have a mental health condition and the leaflet also includes links to each water companies scheme.
Utility Companies - To get extra help from your gas or electric supplier you need contact your supplier, you should be able to find the contact details on your bill. If you are not sure who your supplier is or you have lost your bill, see below.
Gas - To find out who supplies your gas call the Meter Point Administration Service on 0870 608 152
Meter Point Admin Services
0870 608 152
SP Energy Networks
0330 1010 300
Western Power Distribution
0800 096 3080
Other organisations who can offer further additional support
As well as water and utility companies there are other organisations who you can ask for extra help and support e.g. phone, suppliers, Royal Mail and Local Transport providers. The UK regulators Network have produced a useful leaflet outlining some of these services that you might find helpful.