People With Mental Illnesses Pay Up To £1,500 More On Bills Each Year, Report Warns

“It is fundamentally unfair.”

When you’re struggling with a mental illness, switching bill provider to get the best deal will be the last thing on your mind – but sadly, this comes at a hefty cost. People with mental health issues are paying over the odds for energy, telecoms and financial services, Citizens Advice has warned.

People may be paying £1,100 -£1,550 more a year depending on how much their mental health problem affects their day-to-day life, a report has revealed, with added costs coming from “inaccessible services and inadequate support”.

Citizens Advice has called on various regulators and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to jointly identify a set of minimum standards of support for people with mental health problems – and to clamp down on those who don’t meet the standards.

Chief executive Gillian Guy said it’s “fundamentally unfair” that vulnerable people are paying more for their essential services.

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There are multiple hurdles facing people with mental health problems when it comes to choosing bill providers and tariffs, navigating contracts and dealing with how to switch, the report said.

Julia D’Allen, co-ordinator for a mental health project at Citizens Advice South Somerset, said a lot of the people she supports don’t have the mental capacity 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,” she said. “For people with anxiety and depression, losing their phone and contact with other people is like losing a lifeline.”

Shauna* lives with anxiety and struggles to know how to choose the best deal. When looking for new bill providers, Shauna said her thoughts will often trail off: “I can’t remember what I was doing in the first place and I can’t figure it out like, why is it [the cost] this much?”

Citizens Advice also warned that people with mental health problems might also miss deadlines and that complex processes make things more difficult. Jamel* has depression and said every month he has a different attitude towards his finances. “One month I don’t care [what I spend], next month I don’t spend a penny,” he said.

Some providers have been making progress in supporting vulnerable consumers, Citizens Advice said. But this is still far too inconsistent – so what could providers be doing better?

One solution is to give people with mental health problems the chance to switch to more affordable deals if they are struggling to meet commitments. Providers could also make it easier for a trusted third party, like a family member or friend, to step in and support people experiencing poor mental health to manage their accounts, the watchdog suggested. And they could ensure people always have access to specialist customer support to help resolve problems.

Jonathan Oxley, chief executive of the UK Regulators’ Network (UKRN), said: “We agree that people with mental health conditions must be offered the right support by utilities, communications and financial providers.”

He added that UKRN is working to ensure vulnerable consumers are “fairly treated” and can better access products and services that meet their needs and offer value for money.

*Names have been changed.