The debt counseling business of Acme Credit Consultants Ltd means that employees will come into contact with customers who may be experiencing financial hardship on some level. Other categories of individuals who may be considered vulnerable include persons with-
- Change in circumstances
- Long term, low income
- Low level of financial knowledge/understanding
- Mental health problems
- Young adults
- Relationship Breakdown
- Long-term limiting illness or disability
- Critical illness
- Sensory impairments
- Drug or alcohol dependency
- Gambling addiction
- Learning difficulties
- Low literacy Levels
- Low language Skills
- Difficulty in communicating
- Domestic violence or threats
- Victim of crime/fraud (e.g. identity theft)
It is the purpose of this policy to highlight some of the indicators by which a vulnerable person may be identified, and to ensure that due care is taken during all dealings with such persons.
In order to address the needs of vulnerable customers correctly, it is important to be able to identify them as early on in the process as possible. Risk factors can include the factors mentioned above. Having more than one risk factor present will increase the level of the consumer’s vulnerability.
Our employees need to be alert to the signs that the person they are talking to may not have the capacity, at that moment in time, to make an informed decision about the implications of the agreements that they are being asked to make. This is not a diagnosis of a condition; it is just an extension of staff’s existing skill of listening, identifying needs, and adjusting their approach accordingly.
Possible Indicators of Vulnerability
- Being asked to speak up or speak more slowly
- Can they hear the complete conversation or are they missing important bits?
- Do they understand what you are saying?
- They appear confused
- Do they know what is being discussed?
- Do they ask unrelated questions?
- Do they keep wandering off the point in the discussion and talking about irrelevancies or things that don’t make sense?
- Do they keep repeating themselves?
- Do they say “Yes” in answer to a question when it is clear they haven’t listened or understood?
- They take a long time to get to the phone and sound flustered or out of breath, indicating they may have a lack of mobility due to age or illness
- They take a long time to answer questions. They say “My son/daughter/wife/husband deals with these things for me”
- A language barrier exists since they may not fully understand what is being said to them.
- They say that they don’t understand their bill, a previous phone conversation, or recent correspondence.
Working with Vulnerable Customers
Acme Credit Consultants Ltd will work positively with vulnerable customers, treating them with forbearance, giving additional time to compile information if necessary, and carefully managing any future communications strategies.
If we become aware that a customer is potentially vulnerable, this should be noted in the customer’s record with brief comments on the issue identified so that any other person reviewing the record is aware and can act accordingly. That information should also be kept updated to ensure it remains accurate and relevant. This must be considered as sensitive data and therefore protected as appropriate and only used for the stated purposes.
Where vulnerability is determined, the relationship should be closely monitored to ensure that our services remain in the customer’s best interests.
Practical tips when talking to vulnerable consumers
- Speak clearly and enunciate
- Set expectations for the call – outline all the information that will be required – account numbers, personal details, etc. – and how long the call is likely to last
- Be patient and empathize
- Don’t rush them – if they need to put the phone down to find account details, be aware that it could take them some time.
- Guide the call to keep it “on the topic”.
- Don’t assume that you know what the consumer needs – it’s easy to rush through if the consumer is slow or not able to explain what they need.
Mental Health Issues
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 sets out the legal framework concerning mental capacity. The Ministry of Justice has issued the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice.
Mental capacity is a person’s ability to make a decision. It is reasonable to assume a customer has the mental capacity at the time the decision is made unless the firm knows or should reasonably expect that the customer lacks capacity. Having limited mental capacity does not necessarily mean that the customer lacks the capacity to make a decision. The most common cause of mental capacity limitations are: a mental health condition; dementia; a learning difficulty or development disorder; a neurological disability; a brain injury; alcohol or drug abuse.
It is estimated that one in six British adults has a mental health problem. Some customers who fall into financial difficulties may have mental health issues either as a result of being in financial hardship or it may cause them financial hardship as their ability to function may be disrupted for either a short period or permanently.
Possible Indicators of Mental Capacity Limitations
- We have an existing relationship with the customer and the customer’s decision appears to be out of character
- A relative, close friend, career, or similar brings it to our attention
- Where we know or have reason to believe the customer has been diagnosed with a particular condition
- Where we know or have reason to believe the customer does not understand what s/he is applying for
- The customer seems unable to understand the information and explanations we are giving
- The customers seem to have difficulty in retaining the information and explanations
- The customer is unable to communicate a decision to borrow by any reasonable means
- The customer appears confused about the personal information that we require, such as date of birth or address.
It is our policy to ensure that we treat customers who have mental capacity limitations with respect and consideration. Therefore, in our dealings with such customers, we will endeavor to adhere to the following practices:
- Not to discriminate against the individual
- Not to inappropriately deny a service
- Assist the customer to make an informed decision
- Ensure the lending decision or debt solution is responsible and is based on a reasonable assessment of affordability and in the best interests of the customer
- Ensure communications are clear and jargon-free
- Make a reasonable assessment of the customer’s ability to understand and retain the information
- Allow the customer sufficient time to make a decision
Staff will be trained to recognize and encourage a customer to disclose any issue, including mental health, and whether this is affecting their ability to repay the debt. In all instances where a disclosure is made, the customer’s consent to record this information on our systems is obtained and the customer will be advised of how this information will be used. Customers will be requested to provide medical evidence, where necessary.
In the event that a customer does make a disclosure, staff MUST:
- Inform and request consent to record the information
- Provide a Data Protection Statement
Ask appropriate questions:
- Does your mental health affect your financial situation? If yes, can you send in proof of this from your doctor or other medical professionals?
- Does it affect your ability to deal or communicate with us or other third parties?
- How would you prefer us to contact you (in writing or by phone or by email)?
- Does anyone help you manage your finances such as a family member – If yes; do you want us to deal with this person on your behalf? Consent must be noted on the system.
Further Information can be obtained from The Money Advice Liaison Group [MALG] – Good Practice Awareness
Guidelines – For Consumers with Mental Health Problems and Debt.