What is Breathing Space?
Breathing Space, officially called the Debt Respite Scheme, is a government scheme which could help relieve some of the pressure and stress caused by being in debt.
Breathing Space aims to help relieve some of the pressure of dealing with your creditors, so you can focus on getting debt advice and setting up your debt solution without worrying about being chased for payment or incurring extra charges.
It's a free scheme, launched by the Government on 4 May 2021.
Breathing Space is not a payment holiday, so you'll have to continue paying your debts during this time, but it does prevent action from being taken against you if you’re unable to pay.
You can find out more about the main Breathing Space scheme on the GOV.uk website.
It may be very difficult to engage with debt advice while receiving mental health crisis treatment, but problem debt and mental health problems are often linked. The Government therefore committed to develop an alternative route for people receiving mental health crisis treatment.
An Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) will need to confirm you are receiving crisis care for you to be eligible for this service.
Are you eligable?
For both types of Breathing Space, you will need to live in England or Wales and not currently be in another formal debt solution - like a Debt Relief Order, Individual Voluntary Arrangement or bankruptcy. You will also need to have at least one qualifying debt.
These qualifying debts are quite broad and include things like credit cards, personal loans or overdrafts. Many priority debts, such as rent arrears, fuel arrears and council tax arrears will also qualify.
Some debts won’t qualify for Breathing Space. These include court fines, Universal Credit advance payments and student loans. Secured debts like mortgages or car finance won’t qualify unless you’ve fallen into arrears on your payments.
Your debt adviser will ultimately advise on whether Breathing Space is suitable for you while you identify a longer-term debt solution.
The Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) does not need to know the details of your debts to complete the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space form. Their role is to decide if you are receiving mental health crisis treatment and provide this evidence to the debt advice provider. The AMHP, or a specified list of other people involved in your care, can then submit the evidence form to a debt adviser.
A debt advice provider will receive the form and try to establish (as far as possible) which debts you have, and whether they are eligible for the scheme, before including them in a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space (MHCBS).
Your treatment period
The Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space (MHCBS) lasts as long as your mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days (no matter how long the crisis treatment lasts).
The MHCBS will help to create time and space for you to get the treatment you need, without having to worry about your debts growing or your creditors contacting you during your treatment.
Self-referral or referring somone else
You can make a referral to the AMHP service for yourself or for someone else who you believe is in mental health crisis and needs breathing space for eligible problem debts.
The AMHP will review the information and decide whether you meet the criteria for MHCBS and submit the evidence to the Breathing Space scheme.
If you’re not eligible for a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space, then you may wish to explore the standard Breathing Space.
Alternatively, you can get in touch with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for more information.
If you would like to make a referral to the AMHP service for a MHCBS then please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 03452450067 and ask for details.
Asking for consent
You will be asked if you consent to the sharing of your personal information. This is because healthcare professionals have a duty of confidentiality to you, their patient.
This requirement is a separate requirement from the data protection obligations in the UK General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Act 2018. The Breathing Space regulations and data protection legislation require all the organisations involved in the scheme to protect your personal information.
Once an evidence form is completed by an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP), it should be shared with a debt adviser using the dedicated online service provided by the Money and Pensions Service.
The debt adviser will share your information with other relevant organisations, including the Insolvency Service (as the Breathing Space scheme administrator), your creditors and their agents, and credit reference agencies in order to establish your financial situation and make sure your creditors know you are protected.
The debt adviser will also contact you to tell you what they are doing on your behalf, and to tell you about how they will protect your personal information.
Your creditors will know that you are in a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space, but will not be given any specific information about your condition or your treatment.
The debt adviser will try to contact you after your treatment ends, to offer you help to manage your debts. In some circumstances, you may be eligible for a further Breathing Space and the debt adviser can help you with this. These organisations cannot provide a Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space for you without having access to your personal information.
The Insolvency Service will tell your nominated point of contact when your Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space starts and finishes. The Insolvency Service publishes a privacy notice and you can read it here.
You have a right to know how your personal information has been shared in the scheme. If you want to know more about this, your nominated point of contact or your debt adviser can answer your questions and direct you to the relevant privacy notices.
More information about your data protection rights can be found on the Information Commissioners’ Office website.