The debt collection industry has taken a step towards stopping people in debt with mental health problems from having to pay to prove their condition at the very time they are least able to afford to do so. Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, the Credit Services Association (CSA), the voice of the UK debt collection and debt purchase sectors, has proactively revised its Code of Practice to make it easier for customers to evidence mental health problems that affect their ability to manage their money without having to revert to the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF) for which GP’s often levy a substantial charge.
John Ricketts, President of the CSA, says that the Association has started from the principle that individuals should not have to pay for medical evidence, where such evidence may be used to help improve their financial, physical and mental well-being. He said “Those who are most vulnerable should not have to take on more debt to prove it,”
The revised Code advises members not to ask customers to approach health professionals for evidence in the first instance, but rather to engage with the customer to better understand their position, consider what evidence of their health problem is appropriate, and to seek other forms of supporting evidence (e.g a prescription or appointment letter) if necessary. Only as a last resort, or if the evidence is directly required by the original creditor, should the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form be requested – and even then, the cost should not be borne by the individual in debt.
The change follows a series of meetings last year, championed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, the Minister for Mental Health, Jackie Doyle-Price, and the Money & Mental Health Policy Unit, in which various organisations (including the CSA), charities and clinicians (including the BMA), discussed how the (DMHEF) is used and paid for.
Ricketts says it is unacceptable that someone with money and mental health problems should have to pay to evidence their condition: “We’ve therefore taken the proactive step of issuing clear guidance to our members on how they can support the most vulnerable and shifting the focus away from the use of the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form. Being in debt can be a stressful experience and we recognise that. We want to encourage other interested groups to follow this lead and work with them to ensure that all creditors, not just CSA members, see this as a positive move and likewise not request evidence that could ultimately add to a customer’s debt burden.”
Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Minister for Mental Health, said “This is a significant step towards addressing the injustices that people who have mental health problems often face. Around half of those with a debt problem also have mental ill health and many of those with a mental health condition cite concerns about money as a contributing factor. Everyone with a mental health condition deserves to be treated compassionately and I encourage other groups to follow the CSA’s lead to ensure their customers’ mental health is both respected and protected.”