POLITICS
03/12/2018 19:00 GMT | Updated 04/12/2018 13:47 GMT

More Than 100,000 People With Problem Debt Attempt Suicide Every Year – Report

Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is calling for an end to "near thuggish" debt collection letters.

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More than 100,000 people in problem debt attempt to take their own life every year, shocking new research has revealed. 

An investigation from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has also unearthed how 420,000 in England struggling with high levels of debt have considered suicide last year. 

It comes as levels of household debt hit a record high last year, with austerity and flexible work taking their toll. 

The charity, founded by Martin Lewis, is demanding tighter controls on the “near thuggish” language lenders use in letters, which can act as a trigger for those in a mental health crisis. 

Based on new national data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the report reveals:

  • Over 420,000 people in problem debt considered taking their own life in England last year

  • More than 100,000 people in debt attempt suicide each year

  • People in problem debt are three times more likely to have considered suicide 

Lee Brookes attempted suicide after a debt collector visited his home

IT consultant Lee Brookes told HuffPost UK how his bipolar disorder contributed to him racking up £30,000 in debt, as he would experience highs and lows that saw him spend beyond his means. 

The 41-year-old, from Chadderton in Greater Manchester, took out a series of pay-day loans and was inundated with debt collection letters throughout his 30s.

He attempted suicide three times, the third time with an attempted overdose just hours after a debt collector visited his home. 

“All of my suicide attempts were indirectly connected to the debt,” he said. “On one occasion, my stress levels were particularly high because I had a visit from a debt collector. 

“I told him I had mental health issues. He gave me a number to call and I was told there was nothing they could do because I was self-employed, so I just had to pay the debt. 

“At the time I was spiralling down into a depressive episode and had disrupted thinking. It just pushed me really close to the edge.” 

Lee Brookes got help and is now debt free and set to marry his partner Emma at Easter

Brookes had been living with bipolar since his teens. He experienced manic episodes which on one occasion saw him fly to Paris on a whim and spend “£1,700 on nothing”. Other times he would spend huge amounts on tech products during a depressive episode. 

“By the end of it, banks and credit card companies were not lending to me so I was borrowing for pay day loans,” he said. “I was getting pay day loans to pay the pay day loans. It was just getting ridiculous. 

“I can’t expressly put my finger on that the suicide attempt was about the debt but each time, whatever the build up was, was compounded by the debt. 

“I wasn’t sleeping and it was causing me massive stress levels.”  

The last thing those struggling with debts need is a bunch of near thuggish letters dropping through the letterbox, in a language you can’t understand, threatening you with court action. Martin Lewis, founder of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Brookes called a debt advice line during the attempt and got help. He later filed for bankruptcy and is now debt-free and set to marry.

The charity is calling on the government to update the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which stipulates the content and language of creditors’ letters to people in financial difficulty.

Under current law, text which often accompanies threats of court action, can include the phrases: 

  • “IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE BEFORE THE DATE SHOWN THEN THE FURTHER ACTION SET OUT BELOW MAY BE TAKEN AGAINST YOU [OR A SURETY].”

  • “IF YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY IN PAYING ANY SUM OWING UNDER THE AGREEMENT OR TAKING ANY OTHER ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE, YOU CAN APPLY TO THE COURT WHICH MAY MAKE AN ORDER ALLOWING YOU OR ANY SURETY MORE TIME.”

Martin Lewis, who founded the charity and website MoneySavingExpert.com, has warned these kinds of long, incomprehensible letters – especially from multiple lenders simultaneously – can trigger distress and put vulnerable people at greater risk of becoming suicidal.

He said: “The fact a law set decades ago doesn’t just allow companies to use intimidating language when collecting debt, but near forces them to do so, causes tragedy.

“The last thing those struggling with debts need is a bunch of near thuggish letters dropping through the letterbox, in a language you can’t understand, threatening you with court action. And with such a tight link between mental health and debt crisis, we know many of the people receiving these letters are extremely vulnerable.  

He aded: “These letters are destroying lives, but it doesn’t have to be like this.” 

Asked what advice he would give to someone else experiencing problem debt and mental health issues, Brookes said: “Talk to as many people as you can. There are a lot of people out there who are understanding, and they will want to help.

“Talk to them. It will be a load off.”  

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)

  • StepChange debt advice line (free from all landlines and mobiles) is open from 8am to 8pm on 0800 138 1111