The Government has confirmed it will extend the ‘breathing space’ scheme to all people receiving NHS mental health crisis services.
The breathing space is a period of time when fees, charges, interest or collections activity are suspended from a person’s debt.
The announcement comes as research shows 23,000 people in England struggled with problem debt last year while receiving hospital treatment for mental health.
The Government’s breathing space policy is designed to help those in serious debts
The Government first announced the introduction of a breathing space, which is also known as the Debt Respite Scheme, last year.
It said only those who attended a debt advice meeting would be eligible for the respite period. But this meant thousands of people who were in mental health crisis, either in hospital or being treated at home, and too unwell to attend a debt advice meeting would be excluded from the breathing space.
A mental health crisis is defined as when a person experiences an acute period of distress or altered reality, where cognitive capacity may fluctuate, and their psychological or emotional state may reduce their capacity to cope with everyday tasks and make it impossible to stay on top of their finances.
Now an amendment has been made to the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill to say this will not be the case, and all people receiving NHS mental health services will get the same debt respite.
The debt respite period is currently proposed to be six weeks, although the charity has said this should be longer, and is intended to give people time to get on top of their debts and to stop them spiralling out of control.
The change comes after a campaign by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which was set up in 2016 by Martin Lewis, revealed last year that 23,000 people in hospital for mental health issues were struggling with problem debt.
Previously only those who attended a debt advice meeting would be eligible for the respite
It also said thousands more people were managing problem debt whilst in the care of a crisis team in the community.
The charity was supported by several charities including StepChange, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness along with more than 80 MPs.
Founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Martin Lewis, said: ‘This move could genuinely save lives. It’s a victory for common sense – and we’re delighted the government has come on board.
‘People in hospital with severe anxiety, depression and other difficult conditions are already struggling enough without heavy handed creditors pushing them.
‘Stopping those in mental health crisis being hassled over debts, will be a huge help, aiding their recovery, and in due course should also improve their likelihood of repaying what they owe one day. It’s a win-win.’
Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree and president of Labour Mental Health, said: ‘I am pleased that the Government has recognised the importance of our proposals and committed to implementing them in practice.
‘This scheme will provide essential and sometimes life-saving support to tens of thousands of people in mental health crises. There is so much more to do to ensure that the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, but this is certainly an extremely welcome step in the right direction.’
The respite scheme is still in the proposal stage and it will be finalised this summer and a date for it to be implemented will then be confirmed.
How to find help with problem debt
There are a whole host of debt charities out there which offer impartial advice for free.
This is Money also has a helpful guide to getting your finances back on track and dealing with debt if you are worried you could be slipping into debt problems