Healthcare practitioners urged to support clients to access Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space from debt enforcement action

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New research reveals that people who have experienced a mental health problem in the last three years are four times as likely to be behind on priority bills than people who haven’t, leaving them at risk of facing debt enforcement action.

  • People with mental health problems are four times as likely to be behind on priority bills (1) than people who do not.
  • This Mental Health Awareness Week, the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) and Rethink Mental Illness are urging healthcare practitioners to refer patients receiving mental health crisis treatment into the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space (MHCBS) scheme.
  • MHCBS places an immediate pause on most debt enforcement action and provides a freeze on most interest and charges on their debts throughout their treatment.

It comes as this Mental Health Awareness Week (9th–15th May), MaPS and national charity Rethink Mental Illness are encouraging healthcare practitioners to look out for signs their patients may be facing serious debt problems, and to take action to prevent this from further impacting their mental health.

MaPS and Rethink Mental Illness are urging practitioners working with people receiving mental health crisis treatment to refer them for Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space (MHCBS) through its dedicated online portal, which is part of a specialist service funded by MaPS and delivered with Rethink Mental Illness in England (2). 

Launched a year ago in May 2021 by HM Treasury, MHCBS gives people who are in an acute mental health crisis legal protection from creditors chasing them for payments and, for the duration of their treatment, provides a freeze on most interest and charges on their debts (3). 

The need for Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space

According to data from MaPS’ Financial Wellbeing Survey (4) of more than 10,000 UK adults, people who have experienced a mental health problem in the last three years are more likely to be at risk of falling into serious money problems than people who haven’t:

  • They are four times as likely to be behind on priority bills (44% versus 11%).
  • They are four times as likely to be borrowing to pay off their debts (24% versus 6%).
  • They are almost three times as likely to often borrow to buy food or pay bills because they’ve run out of money (32% versus 11%).
  • They are more than twice as likely to say thinking about their financial situation makes them anxious (57% vs 26%).

Success stories

Jeremy, 51 years old, from South West England who was referred for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space through the dedicated service run by MaPS and Rethink Mental Illness, commented:

"My finances spiralled out of control after struggling with my mental health over a number of years. When I hit my lowest point, I had accrued around £28,000 of debt to a number of creditors and was struggling to keep a roof over my family’s head.

"I was referred to receive crisis treatment from my local NHS Trust, who introduced me to the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space programme. Immediately, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My debt adviser helped me get a huge £15,000 of debt written off and access charitable grants to help my family with our ongoing living costs. My mortgage lender didn’t take repossession of my home, my family relationships have improved and I have now even been offered a new job. Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space allowed me to focus on my recovery — my mental health started to improve, and I have been able to continue to get better while my family is financially supported."

Nicola Cooper, a Debt Adviser at Rethink Mental IllnessOpens in a new window said:

"Being in fear of getting evicted or going bankrupt is distressing — when you partner this with a serious mental health condition, it often leaves people unable to focus on their mental health recovery. I’ve been working as a debt adviser for over 10 years now, and the impact schemes like Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space can have on a person is truly life changing. It instantly alleviates the intense pressures a person is facing, for example some of my clients have been able to avoid homelessness after entering MHCBS. There is often such relief and tears over the phone in these situations. After someone has completed MHCBS and started debt advice, I’ve witnessed people engage more with their finances and they are in a better position to understand their options to find a way forward with their debts."

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Chief Executive Officer at MaPS, said:

"We know that money worries and mental health problems often go hand in hand. Coping with the after-effects of the pandemic and cost of living pressures is tricky enough for anyone, but can be particularly challenging for people also dealing with a mental health condition.

"We know the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space makes a real difference for people. It’s delivered through a specialist service we fund through Rethink Mental Illness and gives people the respite they so desperately need at a time of mental health crisis, allowing them time and space to focus on their recovery and press the pause button on their money worries. But we also know that many more people could benefit from this service, so we urge those supporting people who are experiencing an acute mental health crisis — whether you are a healthcare professional, carer, family member or friend — to check if they could be eligible.

"Our research shows that people who have had a MHCBS have been able to take steps to tackle their debt problems with the support of their debt adviser, such as preventing bailiff action, writing off their debts, receiving charitable payments and renegotiating debt payments.

"Not everyone will be eligible for a Breathing Space, so we encourage anyone who feels worried about their money and pensions to use our MoneyHelperOpens in a new window service to find out what support might be available."

Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen said:

"Mental health is a challenge for us all — but  these concerns can be exacerbated for people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and are in problem debt.

"That’s why I launched the Breathing Space scheme one year ago and will shortly be consulting on proposals for a Statutory Debt Repayment Plan — to give people the confidence, support and clarity they need to tackle problem debts.

The work Rethink Mental Illness are doing to support their clients is transforming lives. So I would urge anyone struggling with their mental health and in need of financial advice, to reach out to their nearest debt advice provider for support."

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive, Rethink Mental IllnessOpens in a new window said:

"Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space has proved to be a lifeline to people in crisis who are also struggling with problem debt. It offers specialist financial support at a crucial time, allowing people to focus on their recovery in the knowledge that their debts won’t spiral out of control during their treatment. With the support of their debt advisor, they can help find a way forward to reduce the impact of their money worries on their mental health. This initiative is particularly important as we face current cost-of-living pressures, and we hope this will help more people severely affected by mental illness in the years to come."

Further support and information

Healthcare professionals can access further information and resources about referring patients to Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space (MHCBS).

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, or know a family member, friend or carer of someone who is, further details are available on what is Breathing Space and how can it help me?Opens in a new window

People who are not receiving mental health crisis treatment and can access debt advice may be entitled to a Standard Breathing Space. This can give protection from creditors for up to 60 days. People can find out if they are eligible by seeking free debt advice, using the Debt advice locator toolOpens in a new window on the MoneyHelper website.

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Notes to editors

  1. The Money and Pensions Service defines priorty bills as the following as part of its Financial Wellbeing Survey: Rent / Mortgage, Council tax / Council rates, TV Licence, Child maintenance payments, Court fines, Tax debts, Car finance, Hire purchase payments for appliances (e.g. fridge, washing machine, business equipment etc.), Over-payment of benefits/ tax credits, Utility bills (not water bills).
  2. Since the launch of MHCBS, MaPS has provided a single point of entry to enable mental health practitioners to easily refer their patients for the scheme, where they meet the criteria set outOpens in a new window Applications can also be made by patients themselves or their carer or advocate. All referrals must be supported with evidence from an Approved Mental Health Professional. MaPS funds Rethink Mental Illness to process MHCBS referrals in England and to support the client during and/or after they leave crisis care, giving debt advice where appropriate. The single point of entry also links to Citizens Advice Cymru who process referrals in Wales.
  3. A MHCBS is specifically for someone who is receiving mental health crisis treatment, who may not be able to access debt advice themselves. It enables applications to be made on their behalf to a debt adviser, based on evidence provided by an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP). The application can be made by a nurse, social worker, care coordinator, Independent Mental Health or Mental Capacity Advocate. Receiving treatment for a mental health crisis includes where people may be detained under certain assessment, treatment and forensic sections of the Mental Health Act 1983 or are receiving support from specialist mental health teams, such as Crisis, Home Treatment, Early Intervention, Liaison or Community. Further information is available here: a-guide-for-healthcare-professionals ( in a new window
  4. The Financial Wellbeing Survey is a nationally representative survey of 10,306 adults living in the UK. It consists of online and postal interviews during July to September 2021. The research was conducted for the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) by Critical Research. Details on the total numbers of people helped by the Standard Breathing Space and Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space are available on GOV.UKOpens in a new window

About Rethink Mental Illness

No matter how bad things are, we can help people severely affected by mental illness to improve their lives. We’re Rethink Mental Illness, a leading charity provider of mental health services in England.  

We support tens of thousands of people through our groups, services and advice and informationOpens in a new window

We trainOpens in a new window employees, employers and members of the public on how best to support someone affected by mental illness.  

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