How to identify exactly who is vulnerable

We all know that need to treat vulnerable people in an appropriate way, we know that we have a corporate responsibility to do so. We also know that the regulators expect us to take the right approach. The challenge is often how to identify exactly who is vulnerable. The Vulnerability Registration Service holds a database of people who are vulnerable and there are no barriers in the way to stop organisations checking against it.

The pandemic has plunged many more people into vulnerable situations completely unexpectedly. It has also exacerbated the difficult circumstances people were already in. It has put another complexion on the nature of vulnerability – that may be increasing reliance on digital communication, furlough, redundancy, reduced pay, reliance on others and the need to isolate.

Vulnerability touches all aspects of our lives whether that be rental or mortgage, health, insurance, banking, utilities or our mobile phones. All of these are now essential to our everyday lives and difficult personal situations can impact upon all of them. One area guaranteed to compound these difficulties is the knowledge that we are in debt and that we are being targeted to repay that debt so it is crucial that the handling of this is managed as sensitively and case-appropriately as possible.

One of the main problems that people cite, when they are facing difficulties, is the need to repeat their circumstances, highlighting the fact that they are in a vulnerable situation again and again. VRS is designed to alert companies to vulnerability, minimising that the need for people to repeat themselves and possibly having to navigate their way through call centres or websites in order to speak to the right people.

Registering information with VRS is completely free and so it gives the opportunity to help protect your customers when they are dealing with other companies. If a customer is in a vulnerable position, where the right authority is given, companies can work with them to get them added to the VRS database and therefore alert other organisations to their situation.

VRS gives people the opportunity to provide more detail about their vulnerability through a flag system. The detail is provided consensually and shows where people are affected by severe financial difficulty, physical disability, mental capacity, lifestyle events such as bereavement or divorce. We also show where people have accessibility issues eg internet. We have introduced a flag so that people can highlight when they have been directly impacted by the pandemic.

People can self-register on the VRS and companies can work with them to register or, where a Power of Attorney is in place, somebody can register on their behalf. We hold Court of Protection Orders sourced from local authorities – these orders are recorded where there is a mental capacity issue and their finances are not being managed directly by themselves. The information is wholly relevant to companies who may have a relationship with these individuals.

Checking whether customers are in a vulnerable situation through VRS is simple and low-cost. It is relevant at key points in collections – at the point of default, prior to legal action and enforcement and when debt is passed to a debt collection agency and beyond.

Access to VRS is not technically onerous and does not incur significant development costs. We deploy API technology and security and compliance are integral to the functionality of our service. We are also able to work with companies to batch run customer bases against the VRS to show any matches. Checking whether the people you are dealing with are registered as vulnerable on our database is an easy process, a tool to help identify vulnerable people is readily available and it is a proactive step to handling vulnerability responsibly.

For details of how to work with the Vulnerability Registration Service and to make sure that you are taking advantage of a means to identify your vulnerable customers, please contact Helen Lord helen@vregservice.co.uk.

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