13 May 2013


Rev Paul Nicolson – 0208 3765455 – 07961 177889

The government was warned repeatedly, while they reformed the benefit system,

“The debts you are creating will hurt decent people”.

Debt and its enforcement are known to create mental health problems which include nervous breakdown, unbearable stress, an inability to cope, drowning the sorrows in drink and/or drugs and suicide.

The new benefit system has been put together by the mad hatter’s tea party at the DWP.

They give inadequate benefits with one hand and then take them back with four other hands, leaving people unable to buy food and keep warm.

• the bedroom tax,
• housing benefit cap,
• The £500 overall benefit cap,
• the council tax ,

The firsts three create unmanageable debt in rent arrears by cutting housing benefit and then, on top of that, council tax arrears are inevitable. Adult benefits are so low at £71.60 a week people cannot afford to pay.

The government was warned repeatedly about the relationship between debt and mental health problems during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Local Government Finance Bills.

But they persisted in creating unmanageable debts, reducing the benefit incomes which are meant to pay them off and allowing rents to increase.


I sent the following case to Ministers at the DWP, DCLG and MOJ together with 30 other cases of debt related suicide.

"Local Government Ombudsman reports the case of Mr “Watson”, a single, semi-literate adult living alone in Southwark.

Jobcentre Plus mistakenly cancelled his JSA so Southwark cancelled his housing and council tax benefits creating arrears in both accounts. On the 12th January 2001 CSL, Southwark’s out sourced agent collecting council tax, sends Mr Watson a summons for unpaid council tax of £235.10, plus costs, for a hearing on 9th February 2001. The summons contains the following threats, in bold type and highlighted. Thousands are dispatched daily:

“If a liability order is granted the council will be able to take one or more of the following actions:

  • Instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt - this can include your car.
  • You will be liable to pay the bailiffs costs which could substantially increase the debt.
  • Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages.
  • Deduct money straight from your jobseekers allowance or income support.
  • Make you bankrupt.
  • Make a charging order against your home.
  • Have you committed to prison”.

His sister-in-law calls on him. His body is hanging in his flat. The police found the summons with him, paper littered with rough calculations and a note:

“Dear …. I at to do this I am in so much in Detr good By for ever Love……”

Threats of eviction for rent arrears were not far off. JSA was £53.05 a week after rent and council tax. (Now £71.60 and worth less than in 2001). (The Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum income standard for healthy living, after rent and council tax, is £144 a week for a single adult)."

I also drew their attention to the Government Office for Science Foresight Report “Mental Capital and Wellbeing” which links debts to mental health problems.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists met Lord Freud on the subject on the 12th January 2012.

The 12th January 2012 I organised a seminar which Lord Ramsbotham had arranged for Lord Freud (Minister for Welfare Reform) on Sanctions, Penalties and Overpayments. It was attended by Royal College of Psychiatrists, Liberty, CAB, CSAN, Community Links and Homeless Links. I asked them to prepare a three minute presentation. Lord McKenzie (Labour) and Lord Kirkwood (Lib Dem) also attended.

The 19th January 2012. I was invited to meet officials at the Cabinet Office about financial hardship. This followed meetings with officials at the DWP, DCLG and MOJ to discuss the Zacchaeus 2000 description of financial hardship.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE BILL – introducing the new poll tax.

1. Lord Harries placed the Zacchaeus 2000 description of financial hardship on record.

Hansard 24 July 2012: Column GC271.

Seventhly, as the noble Baroness Meacher pointed out, there are some very heart-rending cases of people running into huge debts because of mental health problems, or of such problems occurring because of all sorts of misunderstanding about the debt. The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that 50% of people in debt have mental health problems. The figure is 50%, so, to put it the other way round, 25% of people with a diagnosed mental health condition are in debt. Those are startling figures.

2. Baroness Meacher moves an amendment for Zacchaeus 2000 to protect individuals and families in financial need from having their essential belongings, and even their homes, seized by bailiffs executing a warrant for the repayment of debts.

24 July 2012: Column GC267.

Baroness Meacher. Just imagine what would happen if you lost a piece of your rent and you had to take it-perhaps £8 a week-out of your £54. I cannot imagine living on £54 a week for housing benefit and all the other bits and pieces you get. As for the idea that you then lose a bit of that as well because you are in the wrong flat and have to move, what about the costs of moving and all the rest of it? It is unthinkable that these people will be able to cope at all.

Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
Trustee Zacchaeus 2000