A lack of support means people with a mental health condition can pay between £1,100 to £1,550 a year more for essential services, new research from Citizens Advice shows.
This problem exists across energy, telecoms, current accounts and unsecured personal credit such as credit cards and overdrafts.
The charity has found that many companies are failing people with mental health problems. As the infographic below shows, a lack of support means those with a mental health problem are likely to face significant extra costs.
Poor mental health is the most common type of illness experienced by people Citizens Advice helps. In the last year nearly 90,000 of the people it has helped reported having a mental health problem. These conditions include anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.
Citizens Advice is calling for the relevant regulators (Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom and the FCA) to agree, and implement, minimum standards of support for people with mental health problems. These include:
- If a customer with mental health problems is struggling to pay their bill, providers should be obliged to review their tariff and check it is the best one for their needs
- Not having services disconnected due to debt or late payment – instead providers should work with customers to set up affordable payment plans
- Priority repairs if their service is disrupted
- Being able to communicate in a way that works best for them without being charged extra
The charity would also like to see regulators monitor firms’ performance and take enforcement action where needed.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“If you have a mental health condition, keeping on top of everyday tasks such as paying a bill, or solving a problem with a provider, can be especially challenging.
“Companies should be doing all they can to support vulnerable customers, but instead too many are being left to fend for themselves.
“Poor mental health is the number 1 health issue experienced by the people we help, and it is fundamentally unfair that they pay more for their essential services.
“Last year the government tasked regulators with making minimum standards for people with poor mental health a priority. Little has been done. This is a widespread problem and regulators need to step up and take action to ensure people are not being ripped off.”
Julia D’Allen, the coordinator for a mental health project at Citizens Advice South Somerset, said:
“Almost all of the people we help with mental health problems have financial issues as a result. They just don’t have the mental wellbeing to shop around for the best deals.
“I’ve seen so many people whose broadband and phone packages have gone up after a year, they can’t afford it and they’re sinking into debt or having their phones cut off. For people with anxiety and depression, losing their phone and contact with other people is like losing a lifeline.
“These companies do have good deals for vulnerable people but they’re not easy to access. It takes them coming to Citizens Advice and for us to really push, for these providers to relent and help their customer.
“There’s nothing worse than when you see someone with depression who has tried to ask for help and got nowhere. They’ve been pushed further into their hole, they get further into debt and it becomes a vicious cycle.”
Len is a single father of 3, and helped by Julia. He said:
“Some days my mental health condition means it is difficult to function at all. I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which means I experience exhaustion, depression and anxiety.
“This makes it difficult for me to communicate with companies. I need continuity and for things to be familiar to me but every time I get in touch, I have to speak to a different person. This also means I don’t want to change any of my contracts so stick with the same ones.
“I’ve had bad experiences when trying to get help so I now expect negativity when a financial situation occurs.
“I’ve had my broadband disconnected due to unpaid bills. I then had no way to fix the problem as my line of communication had been taken away. I felt isolated and this meant my mental health condition got worse and I got further behind on my payments.
“I don’t want to become or stay dependent and I am someone who is always finding ways to help myself but I’m struggling at the moment and need more support.
“I don’t think I should be paying more for my services because of my mental health condition.”