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Banks face mental health challenge

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Banks must offer basic account options, as given to other vulnerable people, to assist those struggling with mental health conditions, a think tank says.

Mental health problems affected everyday activities such as budgeting and paying bills, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) said.

Setting spending limits on cards and allowing people to set how banks contacted them would help, it said.

The trade body for High Street banks has vowed to improve inclusion.

In its mission statement covering 2016-18, the British Bankers’ Association said that the “crucial part of the industry commitment to raising standards” should include working with mental health initiatives.

The MMHPI said one in four people could suffer from mental health issues in any one year. It has published research suggesting that periods of poor mental health put people at risk of financial trouble.

For example it found that people with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder were likely to struggle with short-term memory, making Pin numbers harder to remember.

Those experiencing bipolar disorder or ADHD often struggled to resist impulses, potentially leading to dramatic spending sprees, it said.

People with borderline personality disorder or psychosis could find it very difficult to compare financial options and found it more difficult to plan ahead.

Extreme anxiety could also stop people opening letters or taking calls from banks.

The MMHPI is challenging banks to adapt some systems already available to help those with mental health problems. For example

  • The ability to delegate limited permissions to someone else to manage an aspect of your finances, as is available to wealthy individuals
  • Setting spending limits on cards or blocking access to some merchant codes, as is possible on many corporate cards
  • The ability to set communication preferences on an account, which is generally offered to people with visual or hearing impairments.

Polly Mackenzie, the Institute’s director, said: “For too long, it has been assumed that when people with mental health problems get behind on bills, or struggle to stick to their budget, it is because they are lazy or incompetent. Our research proves beyond doubt that’s just not true.

“Mental health problems can severely affect consumers’ ability to stay on top of their finances, shop around, or manage a budget.

“It is time for the financial services industry to adapt its services to help support people when they are unwell – just as they do to help people with physical disabilities who struggle to access a branch or engage on the phone.”

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