Consumer vulnerability

Vulnerability is an issue that can – and likely will – affect most of us at some point in our lives. It can be temporary, sporadic or even permanent in nature; it can be unpredictable, and may change over a period of time. The Financial Conduct Authority has developed the following definition of a ‘vulnerable consumer’ to inform its work:

A vulnerable consumer is someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.

Vulnerable personal circumstances may include (but are not limited to): experiencing health problems (either physical or mental, short term or long term); emotional distress or bereavement; having a physical disability; having a limited understanding of English or having low basic skills; suffering from an addiction, or being a carer for someone with a range of conditions.

Financial services play a significant and essential role in all of our lives, and as consumers and citizens we are expected to take greater responsibility for our personal finances and ensuring our own financial wellbeing. In an increasingly financialised society consumers in vulnerable situations are often more at risk when dealing with financial service providers, and are more likely to suffer detriment than the notional ‘average’ person.

While some examples of good practice exist, many financial services providers are not serving consumers in vulnerable situations consistently or, in some cases, fairly. Policy makers and providers have a duty to ensure that all consumers are adequately served and protected, and therefore ensuring that vulnerable consumers are treated fairly, consistently and with sensitivity has become a growing priority for regulators and the financial services industry alike.


Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers
Jamie Evans, Chris Fitch, Sharon Collard and Colin Trend

This report aims to give a voice to debt advisers across the UK on their experiences of working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It presents new evidence on the day-to-day challenges that advisers face on the frontline - based on a nationwide survey of nearly 1,600 debt advisers. Alongside these challenges, we also present examples of best practice for working with clients in particularly vulnerable situations.

Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers (Main report) (PDF, 6,416kB)

Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers (DATA REPORT) (PDF, 1,265kB)Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers (Resource pack) (PDF, 4,108kB)Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers (Appendix A) (PDF, 171kB)

Financial difficulty and mental wellbeing - a summary of our 2017 workshop series
Personal Finance Research Centre

Our 2017 workshop series brought together over 100 experts from different fields and disciplines to consider the complex relationship between people’s financial difficulties and their mental wellbeing. It was clear from the workshops – as well as from our own research in this area – that money problems both exacerbate and are exacerbated by other ‘vulnerable’ situations. Poor mental health, addictions and even suicide are all more likely where people experience financial difficulties. This document summarises the discussions that we had and considers some of the changes that organisations can implement (or may have already implemented) to improve the support they give to individuals in vulnerable situations.

Financial difficulty and mental wellbeing - 2017 workshop series summary (PDF, 497kB)

Sharing is caring? Could data sharing improve the support provided to customers in vulnerable situations?
Sharon Collard, Jamie Evans and Chris Fitch

This report asks whether greater sharing of data between financial services firms can improve their ability to identify and support customers in vulnerable situations. It considers how such data-sharing could work in practice, and presents ‘building blocks’ for the industry to consider if it is to take forward increased data-sharing.

Sharing is caring? (Report) (PDF, 1,465kB)Sharing is caring? (Executive Summary) (PDF, 801kB)


Vulnerability, mental health, and the energy sector
Michael Ramone, Chris Fitch, Matt Vaughan Wilson, Colin Trend and Jamie Evans

This guide aims to help gas and electricity suppliers to better identify, understand, and support consumers who are in vulnerable situations. It provides practical tools which can be used with consumers in a range of vulnerable situations. It also offers specific guidance on helping consumers with mental health problems, or with mental capacity limitations.

Vulnerability, mental health, and the energy sector (PDF, 4,073kB)

Vulnerability: a guide for lending - telephony, face-to-face, and online
Chris Fitch, Jamie Evans, Colin Trend and Tim Farmer

This guide provides lenders with a renewed focus, new insights, and new tools for working with and helping customers in vulnerable situations. It brings together new survey data collected from 1,666 staff who directly take customer credit applications in a representative sample of UK lenders. Read in conjunction with our first publication – Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection – it provides insights on vulnerability from across the credit cycle.

Vulnerability: a guide for lending (PDF, 2,369kB)Vulberability: DATA REPORT to accompany a guide for lending (PDF, 492kB)

21 questions, 21 steps - Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection
Chris Fitch, Jamie Evans and Colin Trend

This guide is the first published report based on new research conducted by the University of Bristol in 2016. It provides new data, new insights and new recommendations for organisations working with indebted customers in vulnerable situations.

Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection - 21 Questions, 21 Steps (PDF, 9,783kB)Vulnerability: DATA REPORT to accompany a guide for debt collection (PDF, 894kB)


Vulnerability: a guide for advice agencies – 12 steps for treating clients in vulnerable situations fairly
Colin Trend (Plymouth Focus Advice Centre) and Chris Fitch (Personal Finance Research Centre)

This guide has been published for advice agencies working with clients in vulnerable situations. It is focused on improving experience and outcomes for clients – regardless of the ways and channels through which advice is delivered. Read more on the Money Advice Trust website, or download the guide below

Vulnerability: a guide for advice agencies (PDF, 1,500kB)

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