Adam Higgs weighs up the mental health support available through IP providers.

It is no secret that mental health is the second most common cause of income protection claims.

The effects of conditions such as stress, depression or anxiety can be debilitating and the thought of work, especially if the working environment is a factor, can exacerbate the problem.

There are a number of services and product features offered by income protection insurers that aid those suffering from mental health. These range from those designed to help deal with the cause, through to helping the client back into the working environment.

How such benefits are offered will vary from case to case depending on the specific needs of the individual so having flexibility is particularly important. Counselling services are a prime example of this and, where it may be beneficial, is often the first service highlighted to clients’ suffering from mental health issues.

Where a client accepts the offer of counselling from an insurer it is particularly important that they are comfortable with how it is provided to them. Whilst some will want to discuss their situation in a face-to-face environment others may not be comfortable doing so. Episodes of depression or stress are not confined to the nine-to-five working hours a counsellor may work and therefore access to a 24-hour phone line is advantageous.

Whilst most insurers’ offer counselling services to their clients’, only LV= provide such services across all the channels we identified.

Career support

Where a client is suffering from stress or depression, counselling can identify the cause and help them better deal with this. In some cases, the cause may be the working environment or occupation leading to questions around whether the client should consider moving employer or changing occupation altogether.

This brings with it a whole new range of complications, particularly for those that have been in the same employment for a long period of time. The thought of having to retrain and start from the beginning in potentially a new industry will be daunting at the very least. Clients’ considering this course of action will need support to find a new career and particularly support understanding whatever industry they might move to.

For those looking to stay in the same occupation but move employer, assistance with writing a CV, interviewing techniques and even researching the market would reduce some of the stress, not to mention potentially speeding up the whole process.

To aid in such circumstances a number of insurers’ offer access to career support. Such services can help clients’ better understand the type of occupation they might be best suited to and find training schemes to help them on their way. They can also help in obtaining a job by providing CV writing services, interview preparation services and arranging interviews with potential employers.

Such services are relatively new to the income protection market; however a wide range of insurers’ now offer them to clients’.

Return to work

When the client feels ready to return to work it is important that this is managed. Some clients’ may well be able to return to work unphased; however, others may need to ease themselves back into the workplace in order to ensure that their condition does not regress.

Negotiating a phased return to work is unlikely to be something that a client will want to consider let alone conduct, and as such assistance from the insurer will often be much appreciated. Most insurers’ in the market do offer such services and whilst some have in-house teams others will bring in third party specialists such as Best Hopes Coaching and Consulting Ltd and Innovate Healthcare as required.

These services will aim to produce a return to work that is designed specifically for the client’s circumstances. As such no two plans are likely to be the same and a specialist dealing with the case will act as a go-between for the client and their employer to ensure that the whole process is as stress-free as it can possibly be.

Such plans may involve a period where the client works in a reduced capacity, part-time or even a lesser-paying role. As such they will be in receipt of some income but not necessarily the level of remuneration they had pre-incapacity. In such scenarios income protection providers will continue paying the client a benefit but on a reduced basis.

The reduction in benefit is generally in line with the reduction in income the client is currently receiving compared to what they earned pre-incapacity. When calculating the reduced benefit most insurers’ will take into account the impact of inflation over the period of incapacity with the exception of Aviva (Living Costs product only), LV= and Royal London.

In many cases the return to work plan will be phased where the client will increase responsibilities or hours worked over a period of time they are comfortable with. As such their income will hopefully increase at which point the insurer can start to reduce the benefit paid until the point where the client is able to fully return to work.

Over the past five years the role of the industry (particularly for insurers) seems to have moved on from providing just financial security. The benefits provided to help people suffering from mental health issues are a fantastic example of how insurers have moreso become suppliers of services to help people get back on their feet if struck by ill health. If I had any complaint it would be that we just do not make enough clients aware of these services.