Promoting financial independence for people with complex mental health needs How steps were taken to provide people with mental ill health the freedom to look after their money

When tenants at 53 Ardglass Road (a supported living facility in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland) said they wanted greater financial independence, the team helped them to open individual bank accounts and provided money management training so that they could use them safely. Our ‘Bottoms up’ film showed the impact this simple idea has had. Here we look in more detail at what the team achieved and how they did it.

53 Ardglass Road is home to 18 adults who have severe mental health problems and complex support needs. The residents moved there from the Downshire mental health hospital, where it is standard for each person’s money to be kept in a hospital bank account.

Listening to tenants’ wishes

Aoife Cunningham, occupational therapist at 53 Ardglass Road, says that the idea to open bank accounts came from discussions with tenants about things they’d like to change.

‘The tenants very much expressed that they wanted their own financial independence. When they resided in the hospital, all the money was held in a hospital account,’ explains Aoife. ‘They had to ask the staff to sign a chit to release their money, then go to the general office, and ask for their money again.’

Aoife and the team decided to support tenants to open their own bank accounts and look after their money themselves. They designed the process and tested it with just one person to start with, before extending it to others once they knew it worked.

Starting from scratch

None of the tenants had a passport or any other form of identification required to open a bank account, so the process began with applying for these documents.

‘We were really starting from scratch – trying to build up their ID,’ says Aoife. She says that getting passports and identity documents has benefited the tenants in many ways: ‘They’re able to go on holidays now, they’re able to open a bank account…it is very meaningful.’

Alongside applying for identification documents, the team helped tenants to understand the different financial options available to them, such as keeping their money in a bank account or a post office account. ‘We also provided very intensive rehab in relation to money management and budgeting, and safe and effective use of their ATM cards and PINs,’ explains Aoife. ‘It was challenging, but we knew it would be very beneficial and keep it safe for the tenants.’

Confidence and wellbeing

The project ran from January-May 2014 and Aoife says that the Safety, Quality, Experience framework enabled the team to measure progress and make sure the systems they set up were sustainable.  

Aoife adds that it’s been very rewarding for people who work at 53 Ardglass Road to see tenants gain financial independence, and see how it has boosted their confidence, wellbeing and sense of being part of the community. Maggie Stewart, one of the tenants, sums it up when she says: ‘I can get my money when I need it. It’s a whole new way of life.’

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