Our Chief Compliance Officer, Glen Walker, talks about the recent changes to the Debt & Mental Health Evidence Form.
A new version of the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF) was released last month, and Ascent has already embedded it operationally, ensuring all our colleagues are aware of its importance, and are confident in using it in practice. The DMHEF was introduced by advice organisations and credit firms to enable people with mental health conditions to request easier repayment terms or reduced charges on debt. The form provides a consistent way to collect evidence of a customer’s mental health condition from their healthcare professional, detailing how the condition affects the customer and what that might mean for their finances. This information allows firms to understand the customer’s personal circumstances and decide on the best way to engage with them.
This sounds sensible in theory, but in practice there was a problem. Some medical professionals were charging customers for completing this form – typically £30-50 but sometimes as much as £100. There was evidence that this charge was preventing some people from getting help with their debts, or going without basic essentials in order to pay it. Because of this, the CSA amended its code of practice last year to recommend seeking alternative evidence before using the DMHEF, to avoid the risk of charges. The new DMHEF isn’t hugely different from the old one. It asks many of the same questions, but less information is now required from the health professional. Key contextual information about how the condition specifically affects the individual is now optional. Crucially, this means that medical professionals in England will no longer be allowed to charge customers for completing the mandatory fields, as part of the new five year GP contract recently agreed with NHS England.
A range of health and social care professionals are now eligible to complete the DMHEF – ranging from social workers to mental health therapists. The person in debt chooses who they would like to complete it – ideally someone who is familiar with their situation.Unfortunately, GPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can still charge, although the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute says it will continue to campaign to end charges and bring in a consistent approach across the UK.
So what do the changes mean in practice?
- The form shouldn’t be automatically used for every customer who discloses a mental health condition – it should be selectively and carefully used. Indeed, the CSA’s Code of Practice still expects firms to “explore the availability of alternative sources of evidence with the customer before using the DMHEF”.
- On the new form, firms may only receive details of the condition andnot how it affects the customer. The CSA has expressed concerns that the new version of the form may therefore make it difficult for firms to determine how best to engage with the customer without seeking further information from them about their condition, or consulting an appropriate and reliable external resource providing general information on mental health conditions.
At Ascent, we always consider various things when a customer discloses a mental health problem:
- Is further evidence actually needed? We do not always need extra evidence to decide how we should deal with a customer’s case.
- Does the customer already have other medical evidence that could be used? For example, sometimes a customer’s latest prescription or a letter confirming a hospital or health-care appointment can be used as evidence.
- Will the customer be able to collect this evidence?
- Where we believe the DMHEF is the right option, has the customer already filled in a DMHEF for other creditors which we could get a copy of?
If DMHEF is the chosen option, we always explain how the evidence will be used, who it might be shared with and get the customer’s explicit consent to use the information. If a customer is unwilling to give their consent, the process cannot continue, unless a third party is legally authorised to give consent on their behalf (for example, if a customer lacks the mental capacity to make such a decision).
Of course, the DMHEF relies on information being collected from a health or social care professional, so if the customer is not in contact with anyone who fits the bill, we will try to recommend that they register or re-establish contact with a GP.
If we believe a customer needs urgent assistance as a result of the current state of their mental health, we will always follow our vulnerable customer process to ensure appropriate steps are taken to help them.
In conclusion, while we are supportive of the changes to the DMHEF to remove the risk of charging, we will continue to use the form as just one of a wide range of options when it comes to dealing with vulnerable customers.
If you would like any further information on this subject, please get in touch with me.
Glen Walker, Chief Compliance Officer