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Dear Nick: 'I need to disengage a client with serious mental health issues'

Nick Elston advises an accountant whose client has serious mental health issues. Should they disengage gently or try to help?

5th Nov 2019
Speaker and coach #TalkingAnxiety
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Mental issues
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The dilemma: My client inherited some money when his father passed away and that seems to have been the catalyst for his problems. Since then he has embarked on a series of get-rich-quick schemes, bad investments and bad choices of business partners.

Earlier this year he started sending me elaborate e-mails with links to websites he was involved in which outlined conspiracy theories about the government and Treasury's involvement in child trafficking and the manipulation of the property market.

He refused to sign his 2018 SATR and told me not to file as he was going to 'invoice' HMRC as they owed him a lot more than he owes them.  At this point, I should have disengaged but I was also acting for his distraught wife and sought to support her. She signed her SATR and begged and borrowed funds to pay her share of the CGT due on property sales; her husband had spent the sale proceeds paying debts and she did not receive a penny from the profits.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from him 'updating' me on his dealing with the Treasury and warning me that the new 5G mobile phone tech also incorporated soft-kill technology into street lights which can be used to eliminate people.

This is the last straw. I need to disengage but due to his fragile mental health (he has had at least two nervous break-downs in the last 10 years) I need to do this gently.

Read the full dilemma on Any Answers.

Nick replies

This dilemma really resonated with me. When I deliver talks on mental health, anxiety and wellbeing the most common question I get asked is: “How do I help my *insert close friend/family/client here?”

The sad truth is you can’t. The closer we are to people the more they see us as a set role in life: a husband, wife, brother, sister, accountant, and therefore cannot form part of a solution.

A sadder truth is this stuff impacts the carer or in your case, adviser, equally if not more than the person experiencing their challenges.

There is more and more focus being made on financial wellbeing. I have been a speaker, written articles and mentored people more over the past 12 months from a financial wellbeing element than ever before, specifically paying attention to the link between mental health, wellbeing and our relationship with money.

It appears from reading your extremely articulate account of your history with this person that the spiral has worsened with every ‘bad’ decision that has been made along the way.

Quite often people with not only mental health challenges but also low self-esteem and low-confidence will use money, distractions (schemes, alcohol, drugs, sex etc) and the pursuit of material gain to replace the pursuit of more enlightened happiness and personal fulfilment.

The spiral worsens when you throw in guilt, shame, debt and all of the negative outcomes from these endeavours get thrown into the mix.

Then to compound it all, we go into 'man cave' or 'she shed' mode where we cut off our avenues of support such as advisers, friends, family, or medical professionals until we reach a state of depression.

It’s when people lose hope that they lose everything. The hope of something better is the one thing that drives us all: whatever that means to us.

Sometimes, as per your client, we put our hope in the wrong places.

Your client’s experiences and your relaying of the timeline of his actions indicate he has severe mental health challenges, even if his wife was ‘onboard’ in helping. The fact is that unless he chooses to acknowledge his problems and accepts help nothing can be done, unless forcibly so.

I asked myself after reading and rereading this sad tale: how would I have wanted to be handled back when I was at my darkest? It would be exactly as you have done.

  • Professionally
  • Compassionately
  • Decisively
  • Sensitively

You have also safeguarded yourself by ensuring you are accompanied. And in the event of any unwanted persistent contact ongoing, you may need to take further steps to ensure that full closure is secured.

Active signposting is a valuable tool for that. I am a mental health champion for Time to Change. I know I can signpost people there but also Mind, Mental Health UK, Rethink and many more. So they can find their own way forward.

In my experience people are not looking to be fixed they just want to be heard. Hopefully, your action will have triggered something in him to make him want to address his issues.

 

Replies (12)

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By Mikolaj
05th Nov 2019 11:13

When you have a bad client whom does not pay or causes trouble regularly, simply disengage and advise the ex-client to seek an alternative agent. I have learned via experience that it is a much better idea to release bad clients. It is not within our remit as accountants and agents to help clients legally or financially, and especially not with mental health issues.

We should not feel bad about this, merely relieved.

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By rosataylor
05th Nov 2019 11:34

I will not categorise him as a bad client. Although disengaging is a good idea. The man needs help but it is not the accountant's job to help people with mental illness. I feel sorry for him and his wife. I knew a client like that when I was a trainee accountant 28 years ago. The partner in our firm was very good to him until the end, when he eventually killed himself. My boss acted like a Samaritan talking to him all night. This person needs help.

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By Tom 7000
05th Nov 2019 11:38

I had one guy say he didn't want to pay his taxes as he didn't want the money used for war.

I told him he had to pay otherwise he was not being a good citizen and then HMRC wouldn't listen to his complaints on war.

I also said if I submitted the return in such a way that the money went to the NHS, would he accept that instead.

He was happy with that and it all went through.

I put a note in the white space on the tax return asking that any taxes be used in the dept of health rather than defence.

I did wonder if that was breaching an ICAEW ethical standard?

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Replying to Tom 7000:
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By JDBENJAMIN
05th Nov 2019 12:51

It was certainly wrong of you lie like that. Just tell the truth to your clients.

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Replying to JDBENJAMIN:
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By Tom 7000
08th Nov 2019 10:13

was it a lie? I asked for the taxes to be allocated to the correct dept? Which is what I told him I would do.....

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By [email protected]
05th Nov 2019 13:34

This client seems to be worrying about some thing to do with money. He needs the help of a trained psychologist in financial stress. If he was my client, I would certainly be on the phone to Mind for advice.

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By AJLang
05th Nov 2019 17:22

As someone who has struggled with mental health personally over the last 18 months, can I offer some advice. I do certainly sympathise with your clients struggles, however, they are not your responsibility to carry or to solve, much as you would like to help. He needs to seek the help he needs. There are a lot of organisations out there with which to do this, whenever he is ready to do so.

Also, thinking of the stress this is more than likely causing you as well, it is perfectly acceptable to put your own mental health first and say 'I need to disengage from this client'. By all means do this gently, but please try not to feel guilty doing so. As much as we do form a certain attachment to some clients, it's best where we can to keep things on a business level, rather than a personal one.

Best of luck.

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By AnnAccountant
06th Nov 2019 13:24

A firm I know once had a client who sent ranty emails in the middle of the night. He claimed it was due to being bipolar.

Either way, the firm let him go after one of these emails explained, in an awful lot of detail, all the things he'd like to do to one of the female partners.

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By AndrewV12
11th Nov 2019 12:07

A very tricky subject, its probably best to inform HMRC as soon as is possible, and possibly in writing and by phone call, though there is the danger HMRC panic and issue him with a ludicrous demand out of the blue.

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By AndrewV12
11th Nov 2019 12:07

A very tricky subject, its probably best to inform HMRC as soon as is possible, and possibly in writing and by phone call, though there is the danger HMRC panic and issue him with a ludicrous demand out of the blue.

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By darkmatter
20th Nov 2019 21:31

I don't believe any of this , …...but just send him a disengagement letter , and maybe contact a relative to ask if he is ok , and tell them that maybe they should check him out

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By darkmatter
20th Nov 2019 21:33

the advice to notify HMRC when he is obviously either unbalanced or having fun (who knows) ….is ridiculous , the poster of that comment should really start a new career as a car park attendant

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