Benefits of welfare advice

People with severe mental illness are at a high risk of experiencing welfare benefit or financial problems, for example they are four times more likely than the general population to experience problem debt. In addition, people with these problems are at high risk of experiencing a deterioration in their mental health.

These interactions between welfare benefit/financial problems and mental illness may lead to the familiar picture of a downward spiral into crisis.

It follows that providing advice on welfare problems to people with mental health problems can be beneficial to people and can prevent further deterioration in a person’s condition and life situation.

The report from the Centre for Mental Health report, “Welfare advice for people who use mental health services. Developing the business case”, suggests providing specialist welfare advice for people using secondary mental health services can be good value for money and can cut the cost of health care.

The report is based on a study of the Sheffield Mental Health Citizens Advice Bureau which provides dedicated advice to people with severe mental illness, supporting about 600 people each year.

This is a specialist service that focuses on people with multiple complex problems, requiring expertise in welfare problems and mental illness.

The average cost of the Sheffield CABs advice is about £260 per client. The report suggests that this small cost is readily offset by the costs of three areas of savings:

  1. Quicker discharge from hospital – average costs of an inpatient stay is £330 per day
  2. Prevention of homelessness – the costs of homelessness to the public sector, including the NHS, are between  £24,000 to £30,000 per day
  3. Prevention of relapse. This reduces immediate stress (short-term benefit) and increases resilience (long-term benefit). Cost of relapse per episode is over £18,000.

The report includes nine recommendations, including “All providers of secondary mental health services should review how they ensure that service users are given consistent access to effective welfare advice as part of the care pathway”.