VULNERABLE people with mental heath problems are being charged up to £1,550 EXTRA for household bills such as broadband and energy.
Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression can often make bill payers scared of their finances which can lead to them paying over the odds for essential services.
Getty – Contributor Citizens Advice wants providers to give more support to with mental health problems
Some illnesses, like bipolar disorder, can cause sufferers to erratically spend cash like Paul Scates, 39, from Bournemouth who tried to kill himself after a series of spending sprees left him with £70,000 debts.
Citizens Advice, which put together the research, is now calling on providers to give more support to those who may be losing control of their finances due to their mental health.
The charity surveyed 2,000 adults with mental health problems to find out how many extra charges they’ve faced, such as late payment penalties, overdraft fees and charges for bounced payments, due to their illness.
It found that those who have an aversion to change, poor working memory and who find it difficult to act under pressure end up forking out an extra £360 to £540 for bills.
‘I was left isolated after my broadband was cut off’LEN, a single dad-of-two, suffers from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which leaves him exhausted, depressed and anxious.This makes it difficult for him to manage his finances and his fear of change means he’s reluctant to change his contracts.
He said: “My illness 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.”
People who struggle to plan ahead end up sticking on poor deals, while those who can’t manage money online pay extra for paper statements – which overall adds another £280 to £500 to bills a year.
Mental health sufferers who can’t deal with their finances at all face paying out another £510 a year compared to someone without mental health problems.
Those with the most severe mental health problems end up paying an extra £1,100 to £1,550 a year all in.
Citizens Advice wants regulators such as Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom and the Financial Conduct Authority to make providers offer a minimum standard of support, such as finding a customer a better tariff if their mental health means they can’t pay their bills.
For example, providers should work with customers to set up an affordable payment plan, rather than cut off supplies when a bill hasn’t been paid on time.
Or suppliers shouldn’t penalise customers who prefer paper statements for health reasons by charging higher fees.
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive said the extra charges are “fundamentally unfair”.
WHERE TO GET HELP WITH MENTAL HEALTHIF you, or anyone you know, need help with mental health, the following organisations provide support.
CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
Mental Health & Money Advice, www.mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org/
Julia D’Allen from Citizens Advice Somerset added: “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.”
Jonathan Oxley, chief executive of the UK Regulators’ Network (UKRN) which represents the regulators, said: “UKRN agrees that people with mental health conditions must be offered the right support by utilities, communications and financial providers.
“We are already working together to ensure that vulnerable consumers, including those with mental health conditions, are fairly treated, and can better access products and services that meet their needs and offer value for money.”
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