What is a mental health breathing space?
A mental health breathing space is a debt respite scheme for people currently receiving mental health crisis treatment certified by an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP)
Breathing space is a scheme where you can get a period of respite from your debts. This means that your creditors cannot contact you during that time or take action against you to recover their debt
There is a particular version of breathing space for people who are receiving mental health crisis treatment. It can last longer than a standard breathing space.
A debt adviser applies to the Insolvency Service for a mental health crisis breathing space on your behalf.
You can apply for a mental health crisis breathing space if:
- You live in England or Wales.
- You have debts you cannot afford to pay.
- You are getting mental health crisis treatment.
"Receiving mental health crisis treatment" means that you are either:
- Detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act – this is also known as being sectioned.
- You have been taken to a place of safety by a police officer under the Mental Health Act. The place of safety might be your home, a friend or family member's home, a hospital, or sometimes a police station.
- You are getting crisis care from a specialist mental health team in the community or a hospital. For example, this could be if you are staying in a crisis house, being treated by the crisis team in your home, or are an inpatient in hospital. This would usually be intensive support, maybe because you are at risk of harming yourself.
How is the mental health crisis breathing space different from the standard breathing space?
The main differences between a mental health crisis breathing space and the standard breathing space are:
|Standard breathing space||Mental health crisis breathing space|
|Lasts for 60 days.||Lasts for the whole of your crisis treatment, plus a further 30 days.|
|You must get debt advice before applying.||You do not have to get debt advice. Still, you need to have a signed evidence form from an Approved Mental Health Professional that says you are getting crisis treatment.|
|You can only apply once every 12 months.||You can have a mental health crisis breathing space anytime you are getting crisis treatment.|
How to apply for the mental health crisis breathing space scheme?
You can refer yourself for a mental health crisis breathing space, or someone can apply on your behalf. However, you need to have a signed evidence form from an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) before applying.
An AMHP is a health or social care professional who has specialist training in mental health conditions. They are approved under the Mental health Act to determine if someone is in a mental health crisis.
An AMHP usually is a social worker or a psychiatric nurse. However, other professionals such as psychologists and occupational therapists can be AMHPs too. But doctors, such as a GP or a psychiatrist, cannot be AMHPs.
In addition to applying yourself for a mental health crisis breathing space, the list below outlines who else can apply on behalf of you:
- Your carer.
- Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHP).
- Your Care Coordinator.
- Mental Health Nurses.
- Social Workers.
- Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs).
- Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCAs).
- Someone who has power of attorney for you.
- Your deputy.
Whoever refers you for a mental health crisis breathing space will still need to get an evidence form signed by an AMHP.
How can I get a signed evidence form?
The best way to get a signed evidence form is to speak to a healthcare professional involved in your care. For example, explain that you think you might qualify for a mental health crisis breathing space and ask them how to contact an AMHP.
Not all healthcare professionals will know about breathing space, so it might be helpful to show them this webpage if you can.
You can also try and contact an AMHP directly. Most AHMPs work either for the local authority or the local community mental health team. Try contacting the adult social care services department and see if you can speak to an AMHP there.
What happens during a mental health crisis breathing space?
Once you start your mental health crisis breathing space, you will remain there for as long as you receive mental health crisis treatment plus another 30 days.
Your debt advisor will contact your Nominated Point of Contact every 20 – 30 days to check you are still getting crisis treatment.
Once the debt adviser knows that you are no longer getting crisis treatment, they will tell the Insolvency Service to end your crisis breathing space.
The crisis breathing space ends 30 days after you stopped getting crisis treatment. Not 30 days after the debt adviser was told you had stopped crisis treatment.
Your crisis breathing space will also end if your debt advisor does not get confirmation from your Nominated Point of Contact that you are still in crisis treatment.
Mental health crisis breathing space process
- An AMHP signs an evidence form to say that you are receiving crisis treatment.
- The evidence form is sent to a debt adviser via the single point of entry.
- The debt adviser will get a copy of your credit reference file to check your outstanding debts. They may also contact you to get more information about any debts that you have.
- If the debt adviser agrees that you are eligible for a mental health crisis breathing space, they will apply to the insolvency service on your behalf.
- The debt adviser will contact the nominated point of contact every 20-30 days until you are no longer receiving crisis treatment.
- Once your crisis treatment ends, the debt advisor will cancel your mental health crisis breathing space with the Insolvency Service.
- The Insolvency Service will then advise your creditors of the date that your mental health crisis breathing space ended. Your end date will be the date you finished your mental health crisis treatment + 30 days.
- You will now need debt advice – your debt adviser will probably contact you to advise you. Or you can contact a different debt adviser to get advice.
What debts qualify for a mental health crisis breathing space?
Qualifying debts are the same for standard and mental health crisis breathing spaces, these include:
- Credit cards.
- Store cards.
- Personal loans.
- Payday loans.
- Arrears on utility bills.
- Mortgage arrears.
- Rent arrears.
- Council tax debts.
- Tax debts.
- Welfare benefit overpayments (unless they are fraudulent).
- Penalty charge notices.
Joint debts can be included in mental health crisis breathing space, even if only one person goes into the scheme.
The joint debt would become a breathing space debt, and creditors cannot enforce the debt against either person who owes them money. However, creditors can still charge the other person interest or fees. The breathing space does not affect any other debts that person has in their name.
Guarantor loans can be included in breathing space, but the creditor can still take action against the guarantor. The guarantor can apply for their own breathing space if they're eligible.
What debts do not qualify for a mental health crisis breathing space?
The following debts do not qualify for a mental health crisis breathing space:
- Secured debts (like mortgages, hire purchase or conditional sale agreements). You can only include arrears on secured debts.
- Debts incurred after you have started breathing space.
- Fraudulent debts.
- Magistrates Court fines.
- Child maintenance or any money owed from family court proceedings.
- A crisis or budgeting loan from the social fund.
- Student loans.
- Personal injury damages.
- Universal Credit advanced payments.
What can and can't my creditors do when I'm on the mental health crisis breathing space scheme?
Once you have entered a mental health crisis breathing space, your creditors can't:
- Charge you further interest, fees or charges on the debts listed in your breathing space.
- Take any enforcement action.
- Instruct enforcement agents or bailiffs to recover the debt.
However, creditors can:
- Accept payments.
- Ask your debt adviser to cancel the breathing space if they feel you are not eligible.
- Apply to court to ask to enforce the debt.
What happens if my creditor asks to cancel the breathing space?
Your creditor can contact your debt adviser and ask that the breathing space is cancelled. They can only do this if:
- The breathing space is unfair to them.
- You do not meet the eligibility criteria for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space.
- The debt is a debt that should be excluded from a breathing space, or
- You can afford to pay your debts.
Your debt adviser will review your breathing space and decide whether to cancel it. If they decide not to cancel it, the creditor can apply to court and ask the court to cancel it.
What happens if my creditor applies to court to enforce the debt?
Your creditors can apply to the court if they think they should be able to take enforcement action against you. The court will only allow the creditor to take enforcement action if:
- They think it’s reasonable.
- They don’t think that this will be harmful or damaging to you.
- It doesn’t take away too much of the protection you receive from Breathing Space.
- What is breathing space?
- What is a mental health breathing space?
- Priority and non-priority debts
- Bank accounts and debt
- Drawing up a budget sheet
- Negotiating reduced payments to your debts
- Free Debt Management Plans
- Administration Order
- Debt Relief Order
- Individual Voluntary Arrangement
- Write Offs
- Will I be 'blacklisted'?
- What can creditors do if I don't pay?
- Should I tell creditors about my mental health?
- Getting help from a specialist adviser
- What to know about loan sharks
- Next steps