moneyBanks and financial institutions must change the way they operate to give customers with mental health problems equal access to good customer service, a mental health think tank has said.

New research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has shown how people’s ability to manage everyday financial tasks like paying bills or budgeting is affected by periods of poor mental health, putting these consumers at serious disadvantage and causing untold harm. A survey of peer-reviewed academic literature found: 

People with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder are likely to struggle with short-term memory. This can make it much harder to remember PIN numbers or the details of a conversation with the bank

People experiencing bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often struggle to resist impulses, and may go on dramatic spending sprees, sometimes funded by credit cards and overdrafts  

People with borderline personality disorder or psychosis can find it very difficult to compare options and might struggle to work out which financial products are right for them 

Depression, substance dependence, borderline personality disorder and psychosis can all make it more difficult for people to plan ahead, meaning customers may not understand the implications of financial decisions like taking out a loan

Serious anxiety can cause difficulty making telephone calls or opening post, making it harder to deal with financial problems and to keep track of bills.

It is accepted that adaptations are needed to support people with physical disabilities to use financial services. But adaptations to support those with mental health problems are rare, even though consumers with these health conditions are three times more likely than those without to be in financial distress, the report said.

In addition, the report said that simple changes like introducing voice recognition to access accounts, offering a written record of telephone conversations or allowing customers to speak to a company on web chat or by email could make the difference between managing well and ending up in serious debt as a result of missed payments and bank charges.

Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Polly Mackenzie, said: “For too long, it’s been assumed that when people with mental health problems get behind on bills, or struggle to stick to their budget, it’s because they’re lazy or incompetent. Our research proves beyond doubt that’s just not true.

“We have assembled all the evidence to prove that mental health problems can severely affect consumers’ ability to stay on top of their finances, shop around, or manage a budget. It’s time for the financial services industry to adapt its services to help support people when they’re unwell – just as they do to help people with physical disabilities who struggle to access a branch or engage on the phone.

“One in 4 of us will experience a mental health condition in any year, so this is not a niche problem: it should be core business. [This] report should be the starting gun in a new race to the top for banks, energy companies and everyone else who supplies essential services. This is a significant chunk of their market, who are currently left under-served.”