Credit collection is rarely easy, whether you’re working with a debt collection agency, or whether it’s part of your job as an employee or owner of a business. It can be difficult to collect money from debtors regardless of the situation, but if you are working with a debtor who has a mental illness or is affected by another problem such as addiction, it can become a great deal more complicated. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has identified a number of “best practice” solutions that can help make the process easier for collections staff as well as the customer, with more favourable results for both.
One in four UK adults will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime, and 50% of UK adults who have debt problems have a mental illness. There’s a strong and clear link between mental illness and debt, and the link goes both ways: people with mental illnesses are more likely to have unmanageable debt, and people with unmanageable levels of debt are at risk of developing certain types of mental illness. As well as this, someone with a mental illness has a much higher risk of experiencing severe stress and anxiety, and greater strain on personal and professional relationships, as a result of unmanageable debt. It’s also worth noting that people with mental health issues also have an increased risk of developing an addiction to alcohol or illicit drugs, which can further compound both mental health and debt problems.
Sensitivity Training for Collections Workers
In response to this problem, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, together with the Money Advice Trust and Rethink Mental Illness, developed a short training course for staff, managers, and business owners who are involved in debt collection and invoice recovery. Collections employees in many large organizations have undergone such training, including those in banks and debt agencies. Training can include in-house sessions, e-learning modules, and public training sessions, depending on the requirements of the individual or company, and is designed to help credit collections staff deal effectively and sensitively with debtors who have mental health issues.
In addition to the training course, the Royal College of Psychiatrists developed a set of guidelines for collections staff working with debtors affected by mental illnesses. Both the training course and the guidelines were created using survey data obtained from collections staff working for organizations such as banks, credit card companies, and mortgage lenders.
Included among the recommendations from the Royal College of Psychiatrists are suggestions that business owners and debt collection agencies do the following:
- Develop a comprehensive policy that outlines staff responsibilities and options for dealing with creditors who are affected by mental health problems;
- Ensure that the policy includes disclosure to customers so that they’re aware that they can share information about their mental health and be confident that the information will be used appropriately;
- Provide staff with sensitivity and awareness training in keeping with collections policy.
Why is Sensitivity Training Important?
For collections staff, deciding how best to recover debt from a customer with a mental illness is an extremely common occurrence: on average it happens every 30 seconds in the UK. While collections staff aren’t trained medical or mental health professionals, it’s still important to understand the link between mental health and debt, and understand the problems that sometimes make it more difficult for people with mental illnesses to manage their finances. Firstly, it’s important simply because of the need to treat all customers fairly and with respect, and secondly, because sensitivity training that helps staff deal with people in such situations can help them recover debt more effectively.
Mental Health Debt. “Lending, debt collection, and mental health: training and guidance for creditor staff.” Accessed June 18, 2014. Collections staff sensitivity training.
Mind. “Still in the Red: Update on debt and mental health.” Accessed June 18, 2014. Guidelines for good-practice debt collection.
Money Advice Trust. “Debt and Mental Health.” Accessed June 18, 2014. Link between mental health and debt crisis.
Recovery Resource Directory: Treatment 4 Addiction. “Treatment Programs for Alcohol Abuse.” Accessed June 18, 2014. Problems relating to substance addiction.
Royal Bank of Scotland. “A Guide to the Lending Code.” Accessed April 28, 2014. Information on debt help.
RoyalCollegeof Psychiatrists. “Debt collection and mental health: ten steps to improve recovery.” Accessed June 18, 2014. RCP recommendations for debt collection.