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'More to do' to support customers in vulnerable circumstances

Money Advice Trust comments on National Audit Office report.

The Money Advice Trust has today welcomed a report from the National Audit Office which calls for regulators and government to work closer together to improve support for vulnerable consumers. The report – Vulnerable consumers in regulated industries – examines work on vulnerability by regulators in the financial services, energy, water and telecommunication sectors.

The research drew on evidence from a wide range of organisations, including the Money Advice Trust, which is working to help a growing number of creditors and other organisations to better understand and support customers in vulnerable circumstances.

Key findings include;

  • The number of vulnerable consumers "is potentially high, and many conditions that may cause vulnerability are projected to increase"
  • While regulators have "improved their understanding of vulnerability" in each sector, "none of the four regulators have yet translated their high-level aims on vulnerability into detailed objectives"
  • The respective responsibilities of regulators and government "are not sufficiently clear"

The report highlights the role of trade associations in working with regulators to improve support for customers in vulnerable circumstance, citing the work of the British Bankers’ Association’s Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce as an example.

Joanna Elson OBE, Money Advice Trust chief executive, served as chair of the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce. She commented:

"A great deal has been achieved on vulnerability in recent years, but there is a great deal more to do to ensure that anyone in vulnerable circumstances receives the support they need from their essential service providers.

"In particular, the National Audit Office is right to highlight the need for greater co-ordination between government and regulators – and between regulators themselves – on supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances.

"Significant progress has been made in financial services, in particular, and it is pleasing to see work underway by regulators and trade bodies in the water, energy and telecommunications sectors. This report provides a welcome focus on what regulators can learn from each other, as well as the need to move on from high-level aims towards detailed objectives.

"Fortunately, vulnerability remains high on the agenda in all four industries, as growing demand for the Money Advice Trust’s training for front-line and specialist customer-facing staff shows. We look forward to building on our work with regulators, trade bodies and firms of all kinds to further this important agenda."

The Money Advice Trust has delivered vulnerability training to more than 5,000 staff in over 200 creditor organisations, and this month launched new e-learning on supporting customers with serious illness.

In addition to the National Audit Office report, this month also saw the publication of Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection by the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, supported by the FLA and UK Cards Association. The research is authored by Chris Fitch and Colin Trend – the Money Advice Trust’s lead subject matter experts on vulnerability – and throws a spotlight on the broad range of vulnerable circumstances that people can face.​​

 
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