People with mental health problems being failed by essential service companies

Essential service providers are failing customers with mental health problems by offering limited and patchy support, Citizens Advice has claimed.

The charity found energy and telecoms were rated the worst sectors for customer service and additional support, while water companies were seen most favourably, from a survey of more than 3,000 people, half of whom had mental health problems.

Meanwhile, the service said the number of people with mental health problems seeking its advice on utilities and communications issues had soared, at double the pace of people overall.

The survey revealed that those with mental health issues were four times more likely to have gone without essentials such as food to pay their landline, broadband or mobile phone bill, while 13% had had their landline, broadband or mobile service disconnected once or more due to lack of payment.

It also reported “widespread” cases of people being promised extra support for tasks such as reading energy meters from their energy provider but never receiving it.

Citizens Advice is calling for minimum standards to be set for mental health support across all essential service providers.

The Government recently published its Modernising Consumer Markets green paper in which it called for standards to be introduced.

The service said those with mental health problems should be able to expect access to well-trained, specialist customer support, priority repairs of faulty or broken equipment, not to be prematurely disconnected due to lack of payment, and for any arrears to be dealt with in-house rather than by third parties or in court.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “If you’re suffering with a mental health problem, dealing with everyday concerns like your energy bill or broadband signal may be particularly difficult.

“We found that support to manage essential services is either non-existent, hard to find or sub-standard, varying widely between sectors and companies.

“People with mental health problems deserve the same levels of extra care as any other vulnerable group, like the physically disabled or the elderly.”

ComRes surveyed 3,031 people, half of whom had mental health problems and YouGov surveyed 4,178 adults in March.

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