The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has published new best practice guidance for firms to do more to protect vulnerable consumers.
The regulator said that more than 24 million people display one or more potential characteristics of vulnerability – which include physical and mental health issues, recent life events such as bereavement, capability and financial resilience. Over a million people received debt advice last year.
The FCA says firms should do more to ensure that vulnerable consumers are receiving positive outcomes.
The FCA found many examples of good practice and firms thinking carefully about their customers and potential vulnerability. However, the FCA is also aware of cases where vulnerability is either not considered by firms or positively exploited for gain.
The guidance aims to provide a framework that allows all firms to accurately assess whether they are treating vulnerable consumers fairly.
Alongside the draft guidance the FCA has also published research on vulnerable consumers’ experiences of dealing with financial services firms.
The research, which includes 21 in-depth case studies of consumers displaying a range of indicators of vulnerability, highlights four key themes for firms:
- Recognising vulnerability and understanding customers’ needs
- The value of sympathy
- The importance of empowered and knowledgeable staff
- Meeting vulnerable consumers’ communication needs
Christopher Woolard, interim chief executive at the FCA, said: “Today’s guidance sets out what firms should do to ensure vulnerable consumers are being treated fairly. We know many more customers will be struggling with their finances as a result of the impact of coronavirus. Supporting vulnerable consumers is a key focus for the FCA, and the coronavirus crisis has only highlighted its importance.
“While many firms do excellent work to support their vulnerable customers, we will not hesitate to step in where others do not.”
Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance at UK Finance, added: “This draft guidance will provide a practical framework to help identify vulnerable customers and ensure they receive the best possible support.
“The banking and finance industry has put in place a clear plan to help customers whose finances have been impacted by coronavirus, in particular those in vulnerable circumstances. This includes payment deferrals on mortgages and consumer credit products, providing support through dedicated telephone helplines and helping those shielding to access cash and pay in a way that suits them.
“The industry’s response to this pandemic has already been shaped by the FCA’s initial consultation on vulnerable customers and we look forward to working with the regulator to build on this as the guidance is finalised.”
The guidance is open for consultation until 30 September 2020.