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Ministers urged to widen criteria for proposed mental health debt pause

The Scottish Government is being urged to widen the criteria for a new debt moratorium scheme for those with mental health problems. (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The Scottish Government is being urged to widen the criteria for a new debt moratorium scheme for those with mental health problems. (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Ministers are being urged to extend the eligibility criteria for those who can apply for a new mental health moratorium for debts.

Legislation being brought forward by the Scottish Government proposes such a measure to provide those in debt who are suffering from serious mental ill health with “breathing space from creditor action” so they can focus on their treatment and recovery.

The measure is included in the Bankruptcy and Diligence (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before Holyrood.

But MSPs on the Economy and Fair Work Committee, who have been scrutinising the proposals said, as it stands, only those receiving compulsory mental health treatment would be eligible for the moratorium.

This, they said, “does not reflect the severity of the issues faced by those with serious mental health issues and debt problems”, with the MSPs calling on ministers to widen the eligibility criteria so more people could access “much needed support”.

Their report also noted that the criteria for a similar debt respite scheme in England and Wales is wider, with anyone receiving mental health crisis treatment eligible to apply.

While the number of people who might benefit from the proposed mental health moratorium will not be known until the details of the scheme are finalised, papers from the Scottish Government have suggested that between 200 and 500 people a year could apply for such assistance.

The committee also complained that when the legislation was introduced there was “very little” information included about how the new moratorium would work.

Claire Baker said MSPs were concerned over the ‘narrow criteria’ (Scottish Parliament/PA)

While further detail was later revealed in the Government’s consultations, the committee said by this time they were already taking evidence on the legislation.

Stressing it is “imperative that sufficient time” is available to scrutinise how the moratorium will work in practice, the committee said the Government must give early sight of the regulations that will underpin it.

With the committee having endorsed the general principles of the Bill, convener Claire Baker stressed MSPs  were “broadly supportive” of the legislation.

She added: “The idea of a mental health moratorium will be very helpful to those who need it.

“However, we are concerned that the proposed narrow criteria will mean this Bill does not help enough people, and the Bill should be looked at again with this in mind.

“We are calling on the Scottish Government to extend the criteria to allow more people experiencing a mental health crisis to lean on this support.

“Experts suggested various alternative approaches, and we hope the Government will listen to their views.”

With ministers having indicated they will bring forward draft regulations for a moratorium, Ms Baker added: “It is vital that the committee has a chance to scrutinise these regulations before the Bill is passed, so that the detail of these proposals can be fully examined.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Ministers thank the Committee for its consideration of the Bill at stage one.

“A full response to the findings in the report will be provided in due course.”