I’m delighted that – after two years of hard campaigning – GPs will no longer charge people with mental health problems for the supporting letters necessary to fend off lenders when they get in to debt.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives, and one in four people with mental health problems also find themselves with a problem debt.
A number of banks recognise that chasing people who are unwell over debts can stall the person’s recovery and the eventual recovery of the debt. They can offer support to freeze interest payments or even write off some debts when people are struggling.
To access this help customers may be asked to provide evidence of their mental health condition, usually a form signed by a doctor. Until this week, one in three GPs have charged for processing one of these supporting letters.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, of which I am an advisory board member, launched its Stop the Charge campaign in October 2016, to end the practice.
In January 2017, the Department of Health launched a review of the charges and brought together people with personal experience of mental health problems, creditors, mental health professionals and debt advice charities to devise a solution.
Working together, the complex form was redesigned and simplified, the financial industry agreed to reduce the number of cases where the form was even needed, and now the British Medical Association has agreed to stop its GP members charging for the new, shortened form.
The government now needs to deliver the final elements to ensure maximum positive impact, by bringing together the organisations needed to produce the new simplified version of the form – and providing guidance to creditors, debt advisers and people with mental health problems about how to use it.
It has been a long road and has involved thousands of people contributing their experiences and expertise. This campaign – in which I am proud to have played my part – is proving that change can happen, if the government acts.