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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Customer contact and data security: telephone contact: sensitive call handling: vulnerable customers - mental health and debt

In DMB we are likely to come into contact with customers suffering from mental health problems because there is an established link between mental health and debt. Latest analysis indicates that:

  • one in twelve adults are seriously behind with one financial commitment
  • one in two adults with problem debt also have a mental health problem
  • one in six British adults are living with a mental health problem.

A mental health problem is where negative changes occur in a person’s thinking, emotional state and behaviour, and where these disrupt a person’s ability to work, carry on their normal personal relationships, and function in everyday society.

In all cases the focus should be on how the condition affects the customer and not on the fact that a condition may exist. Many people who suffer from a condition are able with the correct treatment able to manage their finances and day-to-day activities.

In our experience customers are reluctant to disclose a mental health condition. The new PDRS approach generates a conversational environment where disclosure may become more common. If you are told of a mental health issue you should treat the customer with empathy and tact.

Our guidance has been drawn up in conjunction with external stakeholders including mental health charities and those who work with vulnerable customers. They have all been very positive about the steps HMRC has taken in recognising the difficulties that vulnerable customers, particularly those with mental health issues, experience when dealing with debt.

The Vulnerable Customer Team’s own experience of dealing with vulnerable customers has shown that the most important thing we can do is make sure that we ask the right questions and get as much information from the customer about their condition and understand how it affects their ability to pay. With some customers we may only get limited opportunity to speak to them as their condition may make them less likely to engage with us.

Where possible all of the questions in this guidance need to be asked to enable us to make the right decisions and treat people in the appropriate way. Some areas of questioning, such as those regarding treatment may not appear that relevant at first, but in some cases the side affects from the treatment may be the cause of the customer’s difficulties as opposed to the condition itself. This information can be important in deciding the best way forward.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with a vulnerable customer is getting them to engage with us, so when we do make contact we need to obtain as much information as possible as we may not get a second chance to speak to them again.

For guidance on how to deal with this type of call, see DMBM585185 - Pre-enforcement: consider the defaulter: customers with health issues.

Where appropriate, seek support from your line management whilst handling this type of call.

Note: When dealing with an abusive call you should note that the customer may be reacting in this way due to mental health or personal circumstances that affect their situation.

This will not excuse their behaviour but may help with your understanding and dealing with the call.

Feeling affected by the call

If you feel affected by the call, see DMBM510490.