A new guide has been published to help financial firms — and other creditors — better understand and support customers struggling with both debt and mental health problems.

Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that half of all people in problem debt in England also have a mental health problem, which can affect their ability to manage and earn money, and to communicate with their creditors.

Further research by the Personal Finance Research Centre shows that during a single year in debt collection, a frontline staff member will receive over 140 disclosures about customer mental health problems.

Money and Mental Health, in partnership with the Money Advice Trust — and with support from UK Finance — have produced ‘The Need to Know’, a free new guide to help creditors support customers affected by debt and mental health problems.

The guide, written by Money and Mental Health and the Money Advice Trust, is aimed primarily at staff working in debt collection teams in essential services firms. It features detailed information about how specific mental health conditions may affect a customer’s ability to manage and earn money.

The guide also offers practical advice on improving support to customers affected by these issues, including:

  • How to get the best out of conversations with customers about their experience of mental health problems

  • When it is appropriate to ask for further evidence about a customer’s mental health problem, and when this may be the wrong course of action

  • How to interpret and make sense of any evidence the customer provides

  • How best to support customers going through mental health crisis situations.

Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said “If you work in a debt collection team, it’s likely that each week you’ll talk to a number of customers experiencing mental health problems. Getting those conversations right can make a huge difference in helping those people resolve their money problems and avoid unnecessary distress. We hope this guide can equip creditors with the information they need to better understand how a customer’s mental health can impact on their financial situation, and to improve the support they offer in those circumstances.”

Joanna Elson, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said “We know, from training around 22,000 staff in over 260 creditor organisations, how challenging conversations about debt and mental health can be for both debt collection staff and customers. However, these conversations are often crucial in understanding a customer’s circumstances. When handled well, they can provide the information needed to offer the right levels of support to a customer.”

“This guide is designed to help creditor staff understand how a customer’s mental health problems can affect their financial situation and if and when external evidence may be needed. I encourage anyone working in debt collections to read the guide and see how it can help both staff and customers alike.”

Stephen Jones, Chief Executive of UK Finance, said “We understand the impact that debt can have on a customer’s mental health and the industry recognises the need to support people with the financial challenges they may face as a result. This guide will provide an important tool for organisations and their employees to understand how a condition could affect a customers’ ability to manage their money, helping them make decisions that are in their best interests. We hope that in turn, it will also give customers the confidence to approach their providers if they are experiencing difficulties.”

Nadine Dorries MP, who is Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, said “Debt can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, especially for people with mental health conditions, and can lead to a very stressful cycle.”

“This practical advice will help arm creditors with the vital knowledge they need to empathetically assess and support a customer’s financial situation and marks another positive step forward in tackling the everyday injustices those living with mental illness face.”