LAST month the Scottish Government published its mental health moratorium (MHM) consultation paper.

The MHM is the flagship initiative in the Government’s Bankruptcy and Diligence (Scotland) Bill.

The consultation was published on November 13, no doubt in response to the widespread criticism that the Bill contained nothing about how it would work to help those in debt with poor mental health.

The practice of bills containing an empty shell with no detail of how legislation will operate isn’t new. This tactic allows ministers to formulate their policy at a later date through regulations.

The difficulty is no one can scrutinise a hollow framework and it’s hardly democratic or good governance for the Parliament to write blank cheques on law reform.

If the consultation document gives us a look at the MHM’s engine, it’s sad to say it looks like a hairdryer sellotaped to a bicycle.

Basically, the MHM is a longer version of the existing six-month debt moratorium that anyone can currently use.

To be eligible for an MHM, a person would need to be in debt and receiving compulsory mental health treatment – hospital detention or a compulsory treatment or compulsion order.

It’s acknowledged this requirement will limit uptake: “The Scottish Government accepts that this means eligibility will at least initially be very limited. This has several advantages. It allows the scheme to start small, and ensure it is on a sound footing before considering whether it might then be expanded.”

Claiming a minimal take up is an advantage is patent nonsense. The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland confirm that for 2022/23 there were 6713 detentions.

StepChange estimates there are 700,000 people with problem debt in Scotland; for the general population the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s latest statistics show there were 3268 debt moratoria granted in 2022/23 and 4947 new debt payment plans under the Debt Arrangement Scheme.

Why a big fanfare for an MHM that will help so few people by design? And why won’t it start until April 2025 or later?

The proposed MHM is a weaker version of the Mental Health Breathing Space measure in England. It won’t halt evictions or repossessions, so people will still need legal help even if they have an MHM.

There are other areas of concern, including the suggestion that a person’s name will appear on a public register – effectively disclosing they are subject to compulsory mental health treatment. This might deter people from using the MHM or cause anxiety knowing that their mental health treatment is being publicly made available.

Alan McIntosh is a money advisor at He’s concerned with the proposal for the MHM application process to be initiated by a mental health professional. A medical practitioner is unlikely to have knowledge of debt and money advice or comprehensive details of a patient’s financial circumstances. Might the MHM be used inappropriately and result in more harm than good?

He suggests an alternative approach: “A simpler solution may be, if the new moratorium will not include any significant increased protection, to use the model used during the Covid-19 lockdown, which was to allow someone to use more than one standard moratorium in a 12-month period.

“If this could be allowed where someone is experiencing severe mental health problems, this would be a simpler process and one that is already trusted and tested.”