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New vulnerability guidance for debt and money advisers

A new guide for advice agencies on treating clients in vulnerable situations fairly has been launched by the Money Advice Trust and other advice sector organisations.  The guide builds on the charity’s existing 12-step guidance for creditors on vulnerability, and aims to help all advice agencies better support their advisers in this area.
The move comes at a time of renewed focus on the issue more widely in the wake of the FCA’s Occasional Paper and the report of the British Bankers’ Association’s Vulnerability Taskforce, chaired by Money Advice Trust chief executive Joanna Elson OBE.
The publication, entitled Vulnerability: a guide for advice agencies – 12 steps for treating clients in vulnerable situations fairly, was written by vulnerability experts Chris Fitch and Colin Trend, and funded by the Money Advice Trust.  The guide has the support of StepChange Debt Charity, Christians Against Poverty, the Money Advice Service, Toynbee Hall, Money Advice Scotland, Advice UK, DEMSA and the Financial Ombudsman Service.
A recent survey conducted by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute highlighted the need for advice agencies to improve the way they advised clients with mental health problems.  The survey, which examined the experiences of nearly a thousand clients and covered both the fee-charging and free advice sector, found that;
  • 40 percent were not asked for their consent for the adviser to record details about their mental health problems
  • 41 percent said that advisers did not ask questions about how these mental health problems were affecting their financial situation
  • 35 percent did not feel their mental health problem was taken into account, despite telling the advice organisation about it
The Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, says the findings reinforce the need to improve systems and training, and validates the investment that many advice organisations are making on vulnerability.
The charity provides training to more than 5,000 staff in 890 organisations through its Wiseradviser training programme, which has also just launched a new e-learning module on vulnerability.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:
“All advice agencies work with clients who are in vulnerable situations – and there is no doubt that advisers always aim to secure the best experience and outcomes for these clients, as they do with anyone who contacts them for help.
“However, we know that debt and money advisers need more support in this area.  The launch of this new guide for advice agencies, which builds on the Trust’s existing 12-step guidance for creditors, aims to help bridge that gap. 
“We hope that agencies find the guidance, tools and case studies it contains useful as we work together to embed and spread best practice across the sector.”
Chris Fitch from the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, who co-authored the guide with Plymouth Focus Advice Centre’s Colin Trend, added:
“It is far from a given that clients in a vulnerable situation can immediately trust advisers and open up to them with the full details of their situation.  The skills that advisers need in these interactions need to be honed and developed, and there are lots of examples of good practice across the sector.”
“This guide brings together this good practice in working with clients in vulnerable circumstances, and recognises the support that advisers deserve to receive on this issue.  Its publication is one further step towards the ultimate goal of ensuring that all clients – no matter what their circumstances – receive the same first class service they deserve.  We look forward to hearing from agencies on how it can be improved further.”
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