12 steps for advice agencies on vulnerability

Colin Trend is an independent consultant and an approved subject matter expert and instructor for the Money Advice Trust’s ‘mental health’ and ‘vulnerability’ training programmes. With Chris Fitch, he co-authored the Trust’s new vulnerability guidance for advice agencies, launched by the charity with the backing of a range of organisations across the advice sector in June 2016.

Vulnerability front cover 800 550In “Vulnerability: a guide for advice agencies, 12 steps for treating clients in vulnerable situations fairly”, Chris Fitch and I ask 12 central questions that advice agencies should reflect on in terms of their approach to vulnerability and supporting clients through their over-indebtedness options.  Launched by the Money Advice Trust with the backing of a range of organisations in the sector this month, we hope it will prove useful to agencies at a time when vulnerability has never been higher up the agenda.

The Consumer Credit Sourcebook, April 2014, from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), doesn’t just put responsibilities on creditors or debt collectors, but equally on advice agencies; whether fee or free to the client.  It is clear from our training and research that gaps exist in some advice agencies.  The publication seeks to identify some of these and then offer some practical solutions.  It is also supported by a range of thoughtful case studies from across the advice sector, demonstrating good practice.

Here is a summary of the twelve steps to consider:

  1. When considering vulnerability are you complying with the FCA on mental capacity? Advisers need to know how to deal with ‘mental capacity limitations’ as well as mental incapacity.
  2. Does your policy on vulnerability cover disclosures of ‘sensitive personal data’? This is a legal requirement embedded in the Data Protection Act.
  3. Does your vulnerability policy address clients who talk about taking their own lives? It is not uncommon for staff to say that this is the issue that gives them most cause for concern, even if a rare event.
  4. a) How well do your staff manage client disclosures of vulnerable situations? The latest research suggests there is a need for a significant improvement in many agencies.
  5. b) How well do your staff encourage client disclosures of vulnerable situations? How do we deal with those clients who won’t talk to us about the issues; do we ignore them or seek to engage at a deeper level?
  6. When a third-party discloses a problem, do your staff handle this effectively and legally? Client confidentiality is paramount, but so is addressing key issues raised by carers and other trusted third parties.
  7. When asking more in-depth questions about vulnerable situations, are your staff covering the key points? We elaborate on a key tool adopted in the financial services sector.
  8. Not all vulnerable situations are the same – are your staff taking difference into account? There is a need to consider knowledge, skills and strategies within our staff.
  9. Are you collecting the right medical evidence to support client with mental health problems? Is the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form being used correctly?
  10. Are you fully using the information you collect about clients in vulnerable situations? There are other health issues to consider too, both in terms of evidence that can be used, but also in terms of how we change the way we interact with our clients.
  11. Are you using your management information to improve performance and prevent problems? What management information are we currently collecting and why?
  12. How well are your staff responding to clients with terminal, life-threatening, or long-term conditions? We look at how to assist a client, even when their world is collapsing around them.
  13. Are you liaising with financial firms that are as equipped to deal with vulnerable clients, as you are? Are you engaging well with firms that know what to do, but also challenging those who do not?

As the authors of this guide, Chris and I hope agencies will find this a practical document that will assist with improving client outcomes. We would both welcome any thoughts on the guide and hope it stimulates further discussion and literature.

You can download the guide here and find out more about the Money Advice Trust’s wider work on vulnerability here.

For more information about Wiseradviser e-learning on vulnerability, please see this blog by learning manager Chloe Willis.

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