Consumers ‘penalised’ over mental health issues

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.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 5:00 am
Support is needed - Gillian Guy

Citizens Advice said many firms 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.

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

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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 such 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 CEO 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,” she added.