Insurers are likely to be failing to meet legal duties set out in the Equality Act 2010 when engaging with people with mental health concerns, according to research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI).
The MMHPI urged providers to think ahead and more deeply about the adjustments they need to make when engaging with customers with mental health issues.
The institute’s Time to Act report looks into the legal duties that essential services firms — such as insurance providers, banks, energy companies and water providers — have towards customers with mental health problems, under the Equality Act.
It reveals many essential services providers are likely to be failing to meet legal duties set out in the Equality Act 2010, which require them to anticipate and address the needs of customers with mental health problems.
Conor Darcy, head of research and policy at the MMHPI, told Health & Protection that it had included insurers within the research.
He highlighted that when customers are suffering from mental health issues, trying to get in touch to make a claim and resolve an issue or just change basic details, can be really tough if firms have not considered in advance what might people with such problems have difficulty with.
“It’s things like making changes so that can someone can say, ‘I want to be contacted in this way.’ That’s a really simple change the firm can make – asking people, ‘how do you like to be contacted?’ and sticking to that form of communication,” he said.
“The thing that gets focused on less with the Equality Act is doing that thinking in advance of if ‘I was a customer with a mental health problem, where might I face some challenges?'”
Physical disabilities more understood
According to Darcy, firms tend to understand physical disabilities more clearly such as if a person in a wheelchair needs a ramp to get in and out of the building or the need to offer braille or large print on letters sent out.
“But I think when it comes to mental health problems businesses don’t have as clear an understanding of what sorts of things they should be doing,” Darcy continued.
“So our report is going through some of the basic, simple stuff firms should be thinking about when doing this kind of anticipatory work, and some of things people say if a firm had offered them it would have made it much easier to get in touch.”
The report’s findings also showed only 29% of people with mental health problems said essential service providers usually anticipated and met their needs, as required under the Equality Act.
Similarly, only 32% of people with mental health problems have been asked by most of their essential services providers if they have any needs that would affect their ability to use services.
And around a third of people with mental health problems said they were not offered any reasonable adjustments even after telling an essential services firm that they had a mental health condition, as required for those protected under the Equality Act
Consequently, the institute is calling on providers to offer at least a basic set of adjustments to address the most common challenges customers with mental health problems face and to improve their processes for encouraging and managing customer disclosures of mental health problems.
The report also recommends that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should make essential service provider compliance with the Equality Act a priority and build a simple reporting tool for people to log suspected breaches of the Equality Act.
Additionally, the institute recommends government increase funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so it is better able to meet its responsibilities and ensure compliance with the Equality Act.
Working closely with mental health organisations
Responding to the research, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “Looking after customers is our members’ top priority and we’re aware that insurance, like other service sectors, needs to help break down any barriers customers may face when trying to access services and support.
“We’ve worked closely with mental health organisations to better understand the needs of people with mental health conditions and published our Mental Health Standards in 2020 to drive consistency and best practice across the sector.
“These were published alongside a consumer guide for insurance, developed with Mental Health and Money Advice.
“There is always more we can do and we are continuing to work with our members and the regulators to address the different needs of customers, including vulnerable customers, and insurers will always abide by the Equality Act.”