VULNERABLE CUSTOMERS POLICY

 

Purpose

 

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that the operations of the Firm do not have any negative impact on vulnerable consumers.

 

For the purposes of this policy, Vulnerable Consumers are customers and prospective customers whose characteristics or circumstances require us to take extra precautions in the way that we sell and provide our services in order to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in any way.

 

 

Identifying a vulnerable customer 

 

When engaging with customers over the phone it is often difficult to identify a Vulnerable Consumer because it is not possible to see many of the characteristics, such as body language and facial expressions, which may identify whether the prospective customer requires additional information and guidance to enable them to make an informed decision.  For this reason, it is critically important to listen carefully to all customers and to identify people who may be classed as a Vulnerable Consumer.

 

  1. Typical telephone characteristics of a vulnerable person include:

 

    • An inability to hear or understand what is being said.

 

      • This may be demonstrated in the customer repeatedly asking you to speak up or speak slowly. 

 

    • The customer seeming to be confused.

 

      • This may be demonstrated in the customer asking repeated questions of a similar nature or providing unrelated answers to questions asked.

 

    • Comments or answers which are inconsistent with the telephone discussion or which indicate they have not understood the information which has been provided.

 

    • Verbal confirmation that they don’t understand or that they require the assistance of somebody else in making a decision.

    • A significant lack of engagement (this may be caused by temporary circumstances such as bereavement or illness).

 

    • The customer takes a long time to answer the phone and sounds tired or flustered when they pick up the phone. This could demonstrate a lack of mobility due to age or illness.

    • The customer is not fluent in the language they are being communicated to. This may demonstrate that the customer does not fully understand what is being said. 

 

When engaging with customers face to face the same characteristics are likely to be evident but body language and facial expressions may also assist in identifying the vulnerability.

 

 

What to do if you are engaging with a vulnerable customer

 

Just because somebody is vulnerable does not automatically mean that they are unsuitable for the products and services the Firm supplies. As soon as you think you may be engaging with a Vulnerable Consumer you must immediately make a record of the same and ensure you adhere to this policy.

 

  1. When you speak to the Vulnerable Consumer you must:

 

    • Provide additional opportunities for the customer to ask questions about the information you have provided.

 

    • Continuously seek confirmation that they have understood the information that has been provided.

    • Ask if there is anybody with them who is able to assist them.

 

    • Offer them the opportunity to complete the transaction after a period of further consideration and reflection.

 

    • Ask the customer for alternative methods of communication including sending information by post or email. 

 

If for any reason you think the customer does not understand the service which is being offered to them, you must not proceed with the transaction and advise them that you will write or email them with further information about the product or services they are seeking.

 

  1. Cues to look out for in order to assist you to determine whether a customer’s consent is informed includes:

    • The emotional state the customer is in when they provide consent to engage with the firm’s services. 

    • Any vocal reverberations during the spoken provision of consent 

 

When a Vulnerable Consumer expresses that they do not want to receive any marketing calls you must ensure that they are put on the firm’s suppression list and, if possible, advise about how to register on the Telephone Preference Service. 

 

 

What is mental capacity?

 

Mental capacity is a person's ability to make a decision. Whether or not a person has the ability to understand, remember, and weigh-up relevant information will determine whether he or she is able to make a decision based on that information. The person will also need to be able to communicate his decision.

 

The mental capacity of a person may be limited in a way which prevents him from being able to make certain decisions because of an impairment of, or disturbance in the functioning of, his mind or brain.

 

 

Making decisions

 

  1. Mental capacity is always defined in relation to a specific decision at a specific time. Consequently, when considering an application for a product, or a change in product factors, we will take account of the customer's circumstances at the time at which the application or request is made.

 

  1. We will take appropriate steps to identify whether or not the customer appears able to understand, remember, and weigh up the information and explanations provided to them, and, when having done so, make an informed decision.

 

  1. Mental capacity limitations can be either permanent or temporary (including fluctuating over time). Consequently, the fact that a person may not have had the mental capacity to make a particular type of decision in the past, does not necessarily mean that they currently do not have, or will never have, the capacity to make such decisions.

 

  1. Mental capacity limitations may also be partial. Under such circumstances the person concerned is likely to be able to make certain decisions but not others. Decisions, that may require the understanding, remembering and weighing-up of relatively complex information, are likely to be more challenging for many individuals with mental capacity limitations than more straightforward spending decisions.

 

  1. Amongst the most common potential causes of mental capacity limitations are the following (this is a non-exhaustive list):

 

•    Mental health condition

•    Dementia

•    Learning disability

•    Developmental disorder

•    Neuro-disability/brain injury

•    Alcohol or drug-induced intoxication (including prescribed drugs).

 

  1. A customer may be understood to have, or suspected of having, any of these (or other) conditions which are potential causes of mental capacity limitation (for example, a mental health condition) - but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have the mental capacity to make an informed decision. 

 

  1. In some instances, it may constitute disability discrimination for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 (EA) to decline a customer's application for our services on a presumption that they do not have the mental capacity to make a particular decision based solely on the knowledge that they have a condition of the type listed above).

 

 

Financial literacy 

 

Mental capacity is not the same as financial literacy – although, in practice, it may often be difficult for the Firm to differentiate a limitation of one from a limitation of the other. In terms of a limitation of mental capacity, the customer has some impairment of mind or brain function.

 

There are only likely to be limited circumstances in which the Firm will have substantive evidence that a customer has such an impairment and, in the absence of such evidence, can reasonably be expected to (proactively seek to) establish whether or not a customer has such an impairment of mind or brain function.

 

In the alternative, a limitation in financial literacy is likely to result from inadequate financial education rendering a customer unable to, or feeling insufficiently empowered to, manage their finances, engage confidently with Firms, and make informed financial decisions.

 

Those with limitations in financial literacy and those with limitations in mental capacity can both be classified as groups of actual or potentially 'vulnerable customers' by virtue of their respective limitations. Given that customers with either form of limitation (or both forms) might have difficulty making informed decisions - rather than taking steps with a view to seeking to differentiate between the two categories of persons the Firm will apply its vulnerable customer’s policy in both circumstances.

 

While acknowledging that there are limits that the Firm can reasonably be expected to go to in seeking to form a view as to whether or not a customer has, or may have, some form of capacity limitation, it is good practice in literature provided to customers prior to providing a service to invite customers to disclose (on a voluntary basis) whether there are any issues relating to their health or general well-being which may be relevant to the consideration of any product or decision by the Firm.

 

Any such invitation should make it very clear that the only purpose such information would be used for would be to better facilitate an informed service being provided.

 

If a customer provides information which indicates that he does or may, have some form of mental capacity limitation that might impact on his ability to make an informed decision, this should not lead to him automatically being denied access to the service being sought.

 

It should act as a trigger for the Firm to consider what reasonable steps might be taken in order to amend its ordinary processes to ensure that the customer is treated fairly and a positive outcome results for the customer.

 

 

Recording

 

When engaging with a vulnerable customer you must ensure that you record the customer’s particular needs on the CRM system in order for future communications with the customer to be tailored to their needs. You must record the vulnerable customer’s preferences (e.g. to receive communication by email or mail rather than telephone). 

You must ensure that you obtain the customers express consent to record the vulnerability and their particular needs, inform them about the purpose of recording the information, the length of time it will be stored and who will have access to it. You must ensure that such records are kept up to date. 

 

 

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Maddison Clarke Ltd is registered in England & Wales, registered address 29 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QJ.  DPA number ZA445087.  Maddison Clarke LTD are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Authorised firm reference number 838445.