Urgent support needed as 2.8m people with mental health problems fall into council tax debt, says charity
Action is needed from the Government and local councils to help support millions of people in council tax arrears. Charity the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), which was set-up by MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis, has issued the calls after research revealed that 2.8 million people with mental health issues fell into council tax debt during the pandemic.
People with mental health problems are three times more likely to have fallen behind on council tax payments, according to the charity, while two in five received a drop in income. The MMHPI also found that three in 10 had to cut back on essentials, such as foods and heating, to make ends meet last year.
It comes as a national poll, led by Opinium, revealed that people with mental health problems are three times more likely to have fallen into council tax arrears compared to the wider population (18% compared to 6%).
Common symptoms of mental health problems, including memory loss and reduced concentration, can make it difficult for people to understand issues around council tax as well as engaging with local authorities, the MMHPI explains.
See our Council Tax guide for more info on the help available if you're struggling to pay your bills.
People with mental health problems find it harder to access council tax support
MMHPI's research also highlighted that people with mental health problems have faced significant barriers to accessing support with council tax bills during the pandemic. It found that:
- A worrying number of people with mental health problems missed out on pandemic-related financial support measures. While 18% of people with a mental health problem fell behind on council tax bills, only 5% used a repayment holiday. Many people said they found the application process too difficult, or were simply unaware that this support was available.
- Disclosing a mental health problem to councils can be extremely difficult and stressful. Survey respondents said that they often have to disclose their mental health problems several times to different council teams, because information sharing between council departments is inconsistent. This compounds the distress that many people are already experiencing.
- When people do disclose a mental health problem, many do not receive additional help. More than one in three (37%) people who disclosed a mental health problem to their council say they were not offered any additional services or support, such as more time to repay any debts or the opportunity to speak to a specialist.
'More support is needed from Government and councils'
The MMHPI is now calling on central government to increase funding to local authorities, to help them provide improved financial support to residents struggling with council tax payments. The charity is also calling on councils to make it easier for people with poor mental health to get support with council tax by:
Providing people with more signposting and information about council tax discounts and deductions, and simplifying the process for applying for them.
Checking and recording people’s preferred communications channels, to enable the council to get in touch if they are struggling with payments.
Ensuring that frontline staff have the tools and training to respond appropriately when someone discloses that their mental health is impacting on their ability to pay council tax bills.
What does the Government say?
A spokesperson from the Department for Health & Social Care said: “We are committed to supporting everyone’s mental health and encourage those who are struggling to reach out for support – 24 hour help is available."
Councillor Shaun Davies, chair of the Local Government Association, added: "Councils know how tough things are for many people and have a wide range of measures in place to help residents who are facing financial hardship and struggling to pay bills. Anyone struggling to pay their council tax bill should contact their council as soon as possible to find out what support is available to them."
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