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New AMHP pilot to help people in mental health crisis to avoid spiralling debt

Approved Mental Health Professionals are now able to help people in debt crisis access the new 'Breathing Space' scheme.

10/05/21

New AMHP pilot to help people in mental health crisis to avoid spiralling debt

Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) helping people receiving debt advice in England and Wales can now direct service users to apply to a scheme protecting them from problem debt and further interest and charges.

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), which is backed by the Government, has ringfenced £2.4 million for the pilot which joins up the mental health sector with debt advice services, to refer people in crisis for a ‘Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space’.

Under the Breathing Space scheme, people with problem debt will be given legal protections from creditors chasing them for payments and a freeze on most interest and charges on their debts for up to 60 days. A standard ‘Breathing Space’ can be applied for through debt advice.

A Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space is specifically for someone who is receiving mental health crisis treatment, who may not be able to access debt advice and apply for Breathing Space themselves. It enables an application to be made on their behalf to a debt adviser, based on evidence provided by an AMHP. This Breathing Space lasts for the duration of their treatment plus 30 days, to prevent their debts worsening while they are in crisis.

The pilot will be run by the charity Rethink Mental Illness over the next 12 months, and is expected to support around 6,300 people living with severe mental health problems to apply for breathing space from their debts.

The scheme will be delivered through the creation of a single online point of entry, managed by MaPS, for qualified mental health practitioners to easily refer their patients for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space. MaPS will also fund specialist Breathing Space training and support for debt advisors across the sector.

Rethink Mental Illness will process Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space referrals and support the client after they leave crisis care to provide debt advice where appropriate.

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Chief Executive at MaPS, said the effects of the pandemic have “impacted significantly” on the mental health of many, as well as worsening existing problems.

“Even before the pandemic, 18% of people with mental health problems were also in problem debt.

“We know that people in this situation may find it harder to engage with debt advice and are being chased for their debts when they are least likely to be able to deal with it.

“The toll of coronavirus on some people’s financial wellbeing will continue to be severe and long lasting. Although many have already been helped by support schemes, and special flexibility on products such as mortgages and loans, there are likely to be challenges ahead when these come to an end.”

Organisations involved in its development say they hope the scheme will support future larger scale roll-out of initiatives which join up the healthcare sector with debt advice services.

Steve Chamberlain, Chair of the AMHP Leads Network, said AMHPs witness every day how the pressures of debt can be “disastrous” to people’s mental wellbeing.

“This additional measure to safeguard vulnerable individuals in problem debt is a welcome tool for all professionals. Having a simple and effective entry point for applications is just as important to ensure that this is an achievable task for any individual, carer or involved professional to complete.

“AMHPs will be able to provide the necessary expertise to certify when individuals are experiencing a mental health crisis of a nature requiring the legal protections of this scheme.”

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