Martin Lewis's charity calls for limits on amount of contact debt collectors make as cost of living takes mental toll
Limits should be placed on the amount of contact debt collectors have with those who owe money, Martin Lewis's charity has said, as a survey from the organisation suggested one in six (17%) UK adults experienced suicidal thoughts as a result of the rise in the cost of living.
The numbers rose when people were behind in more than one kind of payment, with nearly half (49%) of respondents saying they felt suicidal and of those who were behind in payments, 4% said they had attempted to take their own life.
More than half of adults felt either anxious, depressed, filled with dread, unable to cope or a combination of those feelings, due to their financial concerns, the survey of 2,049 adults conducted by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found, the charity founded by the consumer champion Martin Lewis.
Key to those negative feelings were the efforts made by agencies to collect that debt as cost of living pressures mount.
Repeated contact from debt collectors can make people feel bullied, those in debt said as part of the report. Also canvassed for their opinion were more than 200 people with mental health problems.
One such person said they had seven contacts in seven hours from just one debt collection agency, including two text messages, two emails, a letter and two phone calls. The persistent contact left him "feeling harassed and persecuted", he said.
"The sheer number of contacts scares me, it's almost as if they are threatening and bullying me into compliance.
"They have me at the point of not answering calls and removing my sim so they can't contact me. I am becoming more reclusive as a result."
While agencies are warned against contacting indebted customers at "unreasonable intervals", in a document published by the Office of Fair Trading, there is no detail on what degree of contact is classed as an unreasonable interval.
Specific protections should be put in place to limit how and the frequency which debt collectors can contact people about missed payments, Mr Lewis said.
"Even the bastion of free markets, the USA, has tighter rules on that than we do", he added.
Mr Lewis called on the government to update the national suicide prevention strategy to recognise that financial problems are one of the broad drivers of suicide.
"We know that being bombarded with letters, calls and threats of court action from debt collectors can lead people to feel hopeless, helpless and even contribute to people becoming suicidal," he said.
Regulators have also been called on to take action. Bodies such as Ofgem have been asked by the Money and Mental Health Policy to carefully monitor how firms communicate with customers who have missed payments and make clear what good and bad practice looks like.
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK