Consumers with mental health issues can pay premium for key services – charity

Consumers with a mental health condition can pay a premium of more than £1,000 every year for their essential services, a charity has found.

Citizens Advice said many companies across the energy, telecoms and financial sectors are failing customers with mental health issues, leaving them paying between £1,100 and £1,550 a year more than necessary.

These customers face struggles ranging from comparing and choosing the best deals to paying for services on time and staying on top of their budget, the charity said.

Source: Citizens Advice
(Citizens Advice/PA)

It could also make it more difficult to communicate with their provider and to resolve problems.

Poor mental health is the most common type of illness experienced by those seeking help from the consumer advice service, it said.

Over the last year, almost 90,000 of the people the organisation helped reported having a mental health problem, including anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.

Citizens Advice is calling for regulators Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to agree and implement minimum standards of support for people with mental health problems.

Specifically it wants providers to be obliged to review the tariff of any customer who is struggling with mental health and check it is the best one for their needs, to commit to not disconnecting services and instead set up affordable payment plans, and prioritise repairs if a service is disrupted.

The charity also wants regulators to monitor firms’ performance and take enforcement action where needed.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy 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 one 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 co-ordinator 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 well-being 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.”

Jonathan Oxley, chief executive of the UK Regulators’ Network, representing Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom and the FCA, 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.”