Debt respite scheme: advice to the Secretary of State

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 24th April 2018.

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Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree 5:00 pm, 24th April 2018

I beg to move amendment 5, page 5, line 37, at end insert—

“(ia) how it will specifically provide protections and help to individuals in receipt of mental health crisis services, including NHS mental health crisis services;

(ib) which other mental health treatment services should be considered mental health crisis services for the purposes of this Act.”

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 3, page 5, line 39, at end insert—

(iiia) the application of the scheme for duration of a person’s stay in hospital or under the care of a crisis team in their local community”

This amendment will ensure that people who are staying in hospital or under the care of a crisis team in their local community will be protected by the Debt Respite Scheme once it is established.

Amendment 30, in clause 8, page 6, line 15, at end insert

“and must do so before 1 January 2020.”

This amendment commits the Secretary of State to implement a debt respite scheme by the end of next year.

Amendment 6, page 6, line 16, at end insert—

“(3A) A debt respite scheme established by regulations under this section must, specifically, provide protection and help to individuals in receipt of mental health crisis services as well as any other types of individual provided for by regulations under this section.

(3B) The regulations must define which services should be considered “mental health crisis services” for the purpose of this Act in addition to the definition in section 25 of this Act.

(3C) A debt respite scheme established by regulations under this section shall be accessible to individuals in receipt of mental health crisis services irrespective of whether those individuals have accessed debt advice.”

Government amendment 13, in clause 19, page 14, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 8 on page 15 and insert—

“(1B) As part of the application process, the trustees or managers must ensure that—

(a) the member or survivor is referred to appropriate pensions guidance, and

(b) the member or survivor is provided with an explanation of the nature and purpose of such guidance.

(1C) Before proceeding with the application, the trustees or managers must ensure that the member or survivor has either received appropriate pensions guidance or has opted out of receiving such guidance.”

This amendment will enable FCA rules to require trustees of a personal pension scheme who receive an application from a member to access or transfer their pension to refer them to SFGB guidance and explain its nature and purpose (or ensure that another person, such as the SFGB, does so) and will prevent them from proceeding unless the member confirms that they have received guidance or do not want it.

Amendment (a) to amendment 13, after “is referred to appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (b) to amendment 13, after “has either received appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (c) to amendment 13, in subsection (1C), leave out from “appropriate pensions guidance or” to end and insert

“has indicated to the provider of appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance the desire to opt out of receiving such guidance.”

Amendments (a), (b) and (c) to amendment 13 specify on the face of the Bill that the provider of the appropriate pensions guidance should be independent and impartial, and that any desire to opt-out of guidance must be indicated to this independent and impartial guidance provider.

Government amendment 14.

Government amendment 15, page 15, line 14, at end insert—

“( ) make further provision about how, and to whom, a member or survivor may indicate that they have received or opted out of receiving appropriate pensions guidance for the purposes of subsection (1C);”.

This amendment expressly envisages the rules making provision about how the opt-out (or confirmation of receipt of guidance) mentioned in the new subsection (1C) inserted by Amendment 13 must be expressed in order to be effective.

Amendment (a) to amendment 15, leave out from “received” to end and insert

“appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance, or have indicated to the provider of this guidance that they wish to opt out, for the purposes of subsection (1C);”.

Government amendment 16.

Government amendment 17, in clause 20, page 16, line 10, leave out from beginning to end of line 23 and insert—

“(2) As part of the application process, the trustees or managers must ensure that—

(a) the beneficiary is referred to appropriate pensions guidance, and

(b) the beneficiary is provided with an explanation of the nature and purpose of such guidance.

(3) Before proceeding with the application, the trustees or managers must ensure that the beneficiary has either received appropriate pensions guidance or has opted out of receiving such guidance.”

This amendment makes equivalent changes to Clause 20(2), which relates to occupational pension schemes in Great Britain, to the changes made by Amendment 13 for personal pension schemes.

Amendment (a) to amendment 17, after “is referred to appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (b) to amendment 17, after “has either received appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (c) to amendment 17, in subsection (3), leave out from “appropriate pensions guidance or” to end and insert

“has indicated to the provider of appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance the desire to opt out of receiving such guidance.”

Amendments (a), (b) and (c) to Amendment 17 specify on the face of the Bill that the provider of the appropriate pensions guidance should be independent and impartial, and that any desire to opt-out of guidance must be indicated to this independent and impartial guidance provider.

Government amendment 18.

Government amendment 19, page 16, line 29, at end insert—

“( ) make further provision about how, and to whom, a beneficiary may indicate that they have received or opted out of receiving appropriate pensions guidance for the purposes of subsection (3);”.

This amendment is the equivalent to Amendment 15 for occupational pension schemes in Great Britain.

Amendment (a) to amendment 19, leave out from “received” to end and insert

“appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance, or have indicated to the provider of this guidance that they wish to opt out, for the purposes of subsection (3);”.

Government amendment 20.

Government amendment 21, page 17, line 27, leave out from beginning to end of line 40 and insert—

“(2) As part of the application process, the trustees or managers must ensure that—

(a) the beneficiary is referred to appropriate pensions guidance, and

(b) the beneficiary is provided with an explanation of the nature and purpose of such guidance.

(3) Before proceeding with the application, the trustees or managers must ensure that the beneficiary has either received appropriate pensions guidance or has opted out of receiving such guidance.”

This amendment makes equivalent changes to Amendments 13 and 17 for occupational pension schemes in Northern Ireland.

Amendment (a) to amendment 21, after “is referred to appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (b) to amendment 21, after “has either received appropriate” insert “independent and impartial”.

Amendment (c) to amendment 21, in subsection (3), leave out from “appropriate pensions guidance or” to “or has opted out” and insert

“has indicated to the provider of appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance the desire to opt out”.

Government amendment 22.

Government amendment 23, page 17, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) make further provision about how, and to whom, a beneficiary may indicate that they have received or opted out of receiving appropriate pensions guidance for the purposes of subsection (3);”.

This amendment is the equivalent to Amendments 15 and 19 for occupational pension schemes in Northern Ireland.

Amendment (a) to amendment 23, leave out from “received” to end and insert

“appropriate independent and impartial pensions guidance, or have indicated to the provider of this guidance that they wish to opt out, for the purposes of subsection (3);”.

Government amendment 24.

Government motion to transfer clause 22.

Amendment 7, in clause 25, page 21, line 9, at end insert—

“‘NHS Mental health crisis services’ means services provided by NHS England, NHS Wales, or Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland in order to treat acute crises in mental health, whether arising from either acute or chronic mental health conditions.”

Amendment 37, in schedule 1, page 38, line 4, at end insert—

“3A (1) The term of office of a person appointed as chair under paragraph 2(1)(a) must not begin before—

(a) the person has, in connection with the appointment, appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons, or

(b) (if earlier) the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which the appointment is made.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not apply if the person is appointed as chair on an acting basis, pending a further appointment being made.

(3) The reference to the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons—

(a) if the name of that Committee is changed, is a reference to that Committee by its new name, and

(b) if the functions of that Committee (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee by which the functions are exercisable.

(4) Any question arising under sub-paragraph (3) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.”

This amendment would require the chair of the single financial guidance body to attend a pre-appointment hearing with the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons before starting their appointment. If no such hearing is held within three months, the appointment can also begin.

Amendment 38, page 38, line 41, at end insert:

“6A (1) The term of office of a person appointed as chief executive under paragraph 6(1)(a) must not begin before—

(a) the person has, in connection with the appointment, appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons, or

(b) (if earlier) the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which the appointment is made.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not apply if the person is appointed as chief executive on an acting basis, pending a further appointment being made.

(3) The reference to the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons—

(a) if the name of that Committee is changed, is a reference to that Committee by its new name, and

(b) if the functions of that Committee (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee by which the functions are exercisable.

(4) Any question arising under sub-paragraph (3) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.”

This amendment would require the chief executive of the single financial guidance body to attend a pre-appointment hearing with the Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons before starting their appointment. If no such hearing is held within three months, the appointment can also begin.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

I shall speak to amendments 5, 6 and 7. I am incredibly grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House for the constructive negotiations and discussions that have taken place to enable this group of amendments be discussed on the Floor of the House this evening. Their purpose is to extend the debt respite scheme set out in clauses 7 and 8 to people in receipt of NHS mental health crisis services. I am incredibly grateful to the large number of MPs—81, in fact—on both sides of the House who are supporting the amendments. It has also been a real privilege to work with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, together with colleagues from all parties, to put the amendments together.

Last year’s Conservative party manifesto contained a commitment to introduce a breathing space. The Government have since brought forward this Bill and launched a consultation into how a breathing space initiative would work in practice. This included proposals for a possible trigger point for accessing support, with the initial suggestion that a breathing space should be available only to a person seeking regulated debt advice. I very much welcome the spirit of the Government’s breathing space initiative, but I am concerned that it does little to protect the thousands of people in mental health crisis who are too unwell to physically go and seek such debt advice or to pick up the phone to make that call.

According to research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, up to 23,000 people in England alone struggled with problem debt while they were hospitalised as a result of their mental health last year. Those people are likely to be receiving calls, texts and letters from their banks, local authorities and other creditors at a time of acute distress, and they are at risk of falling into further financial difficulty as a result of increased fees and charges—[Interruption.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Some hon. Members are leaving the Chamber, and there is quite a lot of chatter. It would be good to be able to listen to Luciana Berger.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am concerned about the charges that those people will face, and about the drop in their income from the loss of wages and benefits that people could experience as a result of being in in-patient care or crisis care in the community. Thousands more in the devolved nations, and those who are receiving mental health crisis support in the community, will be in a similar position. The additional anxiety and stress that those people experience as a result of those financial pressures not only threaten to undermine their recovery but make it much less likely that they will be able to repay their debts. The requirement for people in that situation to seek advice before they can benefit from a breathing space creates a barrier, and that barrier must be removed if the new scheme is to fulfil its purpose of protecting the most vulnerable customers.

Amendment 5 represents the first step towards rectifying this issue. It ensures that when the Secretary of State seeks advice from the new single financial guidance body on the establishment of a debt respite scheme, it will include advice on specifically how the scheme will protect recipients of mental health crisis services, and information on which services should be considered to be mental health crisis services. We propose that this should include psychiatric in-patient facilities and community crisis teams. Amendment 6 takes this further by ensuring that the regulations to establish the debt respite scheme specifically provide protection and help to individuals in receipt of mental health crisis services, irrespective of whether those individuals have formally accessed debt advice. Amendment 7 would provide the baseline definition of an NHS mental health crisis service.

Targeting these interventions towards people with mental health problems will have far-reaching positive consequences. People experiencing mental health problems are significantly more likely to be in financial difficulty than the rest of the population, and half the people in problem debt are also experiencing mental ill health. The number of people receiving NHS crisis care services is also likely to be relatively small, and a high proportion—at least a quarter—are likely to be in financial difficulty. Furthermore, people experiencing a mental health crisis are likely to experience problems with their cognitive and psychological functioning as a direct consequence of their illness and are therefore highly unlikely to be able to seek debt advice and access breathing space through regulated debt advice.

How will the system work in practice? We suggest that a person entering the care of a psychiatric in-patient facility or crisis team in the community would be supported to access breathing space if appropriate. That could take the form of a certificate or a stamped-and-dated letter confirming that the service user is in receipt of mental health support during a crisis and should have breathing space applied. Many clinical mental health professionals are currently fighting fires before they can help their patients with their mental health. They are writing to creditors, calling bailiffs and completing reams of financial paperwork, and the changes that I am proposing would simplify things for those professionals, allowing them to focus on their day job. It would also reduce demand on mental health services, as research shows that people who are not in problem debt are much more likely to recovery more quickly and less likely to experience mental health problems in the future.

It is important to acknowledge that the proposed changes would not apply in Scotland, which already has a debt arrangement scheme that would require separate legislation to amend. However, we hope that the successful implementation of our proposals could provide the case for similar reforms in Scotland.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

In the interests of time and to allow others to speak, I just wanted to confirm that the Government recognise the motives and the wide degree of support behind the proposals and the particular issues for people experiencing a mental health crisis. We will commit to ensuring that people receiving NHS treatment for a mental health crisis, either at a psychiatric in-patient setting or in the community, will be provided with an alternative mechanism to access the breathing space scheme. We will see that that is developed concurrently with the main breathing space scheme.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

I am incredibly grateful to the Minister. What he has just shared with the House has been missing until now and will make a tangible difference to at least 23,000 people a year. I am grateful for the commitment that he has made. I was going to say in conclusion that amendments 5, 6 and 7 would prevent tens of thousands of people experiencing a mental health crisis from missing out on the protections that breathing space has to offer, which I welcome, because they are too ill to seek debt advice, so I again welcome what the Minister said, because it is critical that that most vulnerable group is not ignored.

Yesterday, Johnny Mercer, Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert and I joined two people with lived experience, Lee and Susan, to hand in a petition of over 10,000 people who support the campaign. This is a truly cross-party effort, and Norman Lamb and I have campaigned long and hard. Mental health does not discriminate, and one day one of us in this Chamber could need to access a scheme such as breathing space. It could make a difference for any one of us. I am grateful that the Government have acknowledged the need to ensure that the scheme reaches everyone who needs it, particularly the most vulnerable, and tackles and addresses the impacts of mental health and debt, and I again welcome what the Minister has committed to this afternoon.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Being mindful of the need to allow others to speak, I rise to discuss Government amendments 13 to 24. Clauses 19 and 20, which were added by the Government in Committee, aim to build on the Work and Pensions Committee’s proposals by putting them into a workable legal framework, ensuring mirroring provisions for UK occupational pension schemes. Discussions with stakeholders and Members of both Houses have informed amendments 13 to 24. If amended, clauses 19 and 20 would place new duties on managers and trustees of all defined contribution pension schemes when an individual seeks to access or transfer their pension pot.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

We may not get a chance to discuss the amendments supported by the Work and Pensions Committee, so will the Minister give the same undertaking that he will introduce secondary legislation if our worries prove valid?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:45 pm, 24th April 2018

The spirit that has run through the House during the passage of the Bill necessitates continued dialogue, and I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that undertaking.

I make it clear that when an individual seeks to access or transfer their pension pot, the duties will ensure that they are referred to Pension Wise guidance and that they receive an explanation of the nature and purpose of that guidance. Before proceeding with an application, subject to any exceptions, schemes must ensure that individuals have either received Pension Wise guidance or have opted out. Rules and regulations can specify how and to whom an individual must confirm that they are opting out, which allows for the opt-out process to be separated from schemes. Rules and regulations will set out the detail of the opt-out process, based on evidence of what helps people take up Pension Wise guidance.

These Government amendments lay the foundation for an effective final nudge towards guidance and will allow us to test what works best before implementation and to update the approach in future. They strike the right balance with what is set out in primary legislation, with rules and regulations providing suitable flexibility.

In the interests of time, and to be fair to everyone else, I will now sit down.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons)

It has been good to join the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), and many others, in tabling our amendments. I very much welcome the Minister’s response.

People often get into a vicious circle, with mental ill health leading them into debt because they neglect vital things and the pressure of those debts intensifying their mental ill health. Kenny Johnston, an inspiring man who set up the charity Clasp and who walked out of darkness to build solidarity for people experiencing mental ill health and suicidal ideation, went through eight years of battle with a bank on mortgage arrears that were started by mental ill health, resulting in two suicide attempts—there was constant pressure on him over that eight-year period. This measure will make a difference. It will help, and it is good the Government have been prepared to listen.

It is important to understand that this is not a panacea. I encourage the Minister also to recognise that there are very many people beyond the scope of clauses 19 and 20, such as people in in-patient care and people supported in the community, who are still experiencing mental ill health and who may end up at risk of suicide because of debt. It is important to get the message out and to establish proper processes in companies, particularly financial services companies, to treat people with mental ill health in an appropriate way in order to protect vulnerable citizens.

Legislation is already in place. The Equality Act 2010 contains a duty to consider reasonable adjustments for people who suffer from a disability, which can include mental ill health, and it is important that we spread best practice much further. I welcome the measure, but it is a start and we need to do much more to protect people’s lives.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk

Given the shortness of time, I will be brief. I thank the Minister and congratulate him on providing the House with what we were looking for this afternoon. I congratulate Luciana Berger, my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer, Norman Lamb, the Breathing Space campaign and the 80-odd colleagues on both sides of the House who have supported the proposal.

I thank the Minister and the Government for signalling what many people in the House and across the country hugely welcome: an appetite for cross-party working in pursuit of looking after the most vulnerable in society, in the spirit of the Prime Minister’s mission when she arrived in No. 10 two years ago. This will send a signal that we are serious.

Secondly, I echo the comments made by my neighbour, Norman Lamb, about the importance of understanding the vicious cycle of mental health and debt, and the way in which the two are so often implicated here. Recent figures from ComRes have shown that 56% of people in work say that payday struggles are their biggest anxiety. Often that anxiety can lead to further complications in terms of depression, which can lead to mental health problems, which in turn can undermine their ability to earn and work. That often leads into a cycle that makes both the indebtedness and the mental health suffering worse, as I know from my own experience. Sixty years ago, my father won the Grand National and 10 years later he suffered a life collapse from a combination of indebtedness, bankruptcy, mental health issues and head injuries, which in those days were not well treated. It is a sign of how far we have come as a society and as a politics that we now talk about these issues so much more openly and we offer so much more help.

I shall close with my third point, which relates to the importance of that taboo. So many people in our society still suffer in silence from debt, which knows no boundaries and is no respecter of class, political affiliation or geography. People who may appear at ease and prosperous—and often those who appear most that way—are struggling in misery behind the scenes and compounding that misery through their inability to feel confident enough to talk about it. That is why, along with the co-chair of the all-party group on inclusive growth, Liam Byrne, we are working on a small campaign this summer with StepChange, the Money Advice Service, the Financial Conduct Authority and Martin Lewis called “Share not Shame” to encourage people to talk more openly about their indebtedness issues and to seek the help that is available. Many people in this country are paying far too much for debt that could be provided at a minimum—at a fraction of the price—and their debts could be rescheduled in a way that takes the pressure and shame from them. I welcome warmly the undertaking the Minister has given today and congratulate those Members who have led the campaign on this, which will signal across the country that this Parliament is taking their interests very seriously.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I rise to speak to my amendment 30, which would improve the timeframe for the breathing space, ensuring its introduction by the end of 2019. That would provide greater certainty, because the current timeframe centres on the establishment of the SFGB, which is potentially moveable. I have proposed a realistic target, allowing sufficient time for the necessary preparation work. I am assured of that by the debt advice providers themselves; they say it gives enough time to plan and develop the new systems to deliver the new protections to all.

Let us not forget that debt often pushes people into a mental health crisis and that debt and depression necessitate people visiting the doctors’ surgery. They are suffering depression, but it is not that; it is the debts that are depressing them. The breathing space and statutory debt repayment plans, properly set up, will give people time and space to get debt advice, stabilise their finances through periods of temporary difficulty and put in place a long-term sustainable solution to their debts. That is not just of benefit to the individual; it benefits the creditors as well, because they know they will be getting their money back, in a fair way, over a fair period of time.

I hope that the Minister will also confirm some details of how the breathing space scheme will work. As I have said on a number of occasions, it is essential that the length of time involved is sufficient to ensure that people are not put back into the harmful uncertainty of unmanageable debt before they have that long-term plan in place. Six weeks has been mentioned, and such a period may help some people, but I have said many times that three months is probably more realistic. I have mentioned how long it takes to get people to come in and deal with the debts, with the need to open carrier bags full of envelopes that people have not had the courage to open. If we are going to start with six weeks, provision must be made for extensions to be made to that; it cannot just finish at six weeks, as it often takes longer than that to get an appointment.

I would like to see this scheme cover all relevant debts, including benefit debts, council tax debts and debts owed to central or local government. If creditors are excluded, they will be able to put the unhelpful pressure on the debtors, which will reduce the scheme’s viability and effectiveness. This has to stop creditors across the board making unaffordable repayment demands. For example, claimants on universal credit can have 40% of their benefit withheld to pay off third-party creditors, with another 40% going on paying back benefit advances—that is 80% of the money. That leaves them with 20% of what is considered the minimum amount required to live on, and that is simply unaffordable.

There is widespread unfair pressure from Government creditors. As StepChange says, bailiffs are often the first port of call rather than a last resort. Clients rate the DWP, HMRC and councils far worse than other creditors—far worse than payday lenders—for treating them unfairly. The Government should adhere to best practice, and I hope that the Minister will agree that it is in all our interests to ensure that no vulnerable people are put into a position where they are unable to pay off their debts.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I rise to speak in support of amendment 5, which is in my name and those of the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), and for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), as well as many others across the House.

We in this place often talk a very good game when it comes to mental health, and serious progress has been made in taking the agenda forward over the last few years thanks to colleagues from across the House. When it comes to parity of physical and mental health, however, small details in policy matter. The amendment concerns one such detail, and I am delighted by what the Minister has said today about bringing that into reality for some of our most vulnerable constituents. It was a manifesto commitment of the Government to introduce a breathing space scheme, whereby people who suffer from problem debt are given a fixed period without fees, charges, interest or collection. The consultation is out at the moment, and I support the proposal very much, but there is a gap in provision for those who suffer from mental health crises—those who are too unwell either to manage their finances alone or seek debt advice, and so would not be able to access this scheme.

As we have heard, last year that situation affected up to 23,000 of our most vulnerable constituents, who were hospitalised for poor mental health while struggling with debt. That does not account for those who were in a similar position while receiving mental health crisis support in the community. The link between debt and poor mental health is indisputable; it is a marriage made in hell. I pay tribute to the work of Martin Lewis in bringing together the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, which has shone a torch on the relationship between debt and mental health. That relationship is often hidden away in some of the darker recesses of our communities, but it makes some of our most vulnerable constituents’ lives hell.

Tens of thousands of people in this country are trapped in a spiral of escalating debts and worsening mental health. Some receive court summons while they are in hospital. I know somebody who faced demands on their doorstep the day they were released following their recovery from an illness. Some people have missed bill payments while hospitalised for mental health conditions, and escalating fees and charges have led some to attempt suicide directly after contact from bailiffs.

The ask of this amendment is very clear: for the Minister to look at extending the current breathing space scheme to apply to anyone who accesses psychiatric in-patient care. We must commit ourselves ever harder to parity of esteem, as I have said. For those who have a short period of acute mental illness—who suffer panic attacks and cannot open the post, call the bank or even think coherently—going to a debt counsellor to call a halt to things is just impossible. The commitment that we seek today, and that we have got from the Minister, is important because it means that people can look to those in NHS crisis teams for advice and space in the breathing space scheme.

I thank the Minister for his willingness to listen to our concerns. The campaign has been a good one. It has involved all Members of this House and shown what can happen when those from all parts of the House work together. I come back to what I said at the beginning. We often talk a very good game—I was delighted that parity of mental health and physical health was made a manifesto commitment in 2015—but sometimes big words have to be matched by calibrated and careful actions. This is one such area, and I am delighted that the Minister has decided that he is going to work on it. I look forward to working with him and the policy institute to make that a reality for tens of thousands of people up and down the country.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18