Groundbreaking guidance launched on inclusive design for essential service firms and regulators

The Money Advice Trust and Fair By Design have today launched new, practical guidance for firms and regulators on how to embed inclusive design in product design and policy development, to significantly improve outcomes for consumers.

Inclusive design is the practice of designing markets, products and services to ensure they are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as possible. However, until now there has not been a well-developed understanding across essential services of what inclusive design means in practice.

This new guidance, produced for organisations working in the credit, energy and insurance sectors – and their regulators – aims to address this gap by helping translate inclusive design principles into practice.

Translating inclusive design into practice

The new guides have been published following increasing focus from regulators – such as the Financial Conduct Authority, Ofgem and the Competitions and Market Authority – on the need for inclusive product and service design.

Existing products and markets in these sectors are often designed in a way that results in many people in vulnerable circumstances being treated less fairly, paying more because they are on a low income, for example – creating a poverty premium. It can also mean that products and services do not meet people’s needs or that some people are excluded altogether.

Inclusive Design in Essential Services: A practical guide for firms and suppliers provides practical steps and examples to support firms – from the point of starting out in the design process through to launching the end product.

This includes changing the mindset of organisations from the outset. Instead of designing for a mythical ‘average user’, the guidance outlines the need to start by talking to people with additional or out-of-the-ordinary needs and how this can lead to design solutions that work for all consumers.

Improving outcomes for consumers in vulnerable circumstances

Alongside the new guide for firms, the Money Advice Trust and Fair By Design have also called on regulators to take the lead by applying inclusive design principles in their own work. Inclusive design in Essential Services: A guide for regulators explores how inclusive design will help regulators achieve their objectives – particularly improving outcomes for people on low incomes, and those in vulnerable circumstances.

By providing firms and regulators with the tools to implement inclusive design approaches, the charities hope to build upon recent progress on the treatment of consumers in vulnerable circumstances.

These guides are part of a wider project of research and work from the Money Advice Trust and Fair By Design on inclusive design. Their aim is to help organisations deliver improved products and services that meet the needs of more consumers, tackling long-standing issues such as the poverty premium and financial exclusion.

Martin Coppack, Director of Fair By Design, said: “Real people’s lives are messy and don’t fit neatly into the remits of regulators and government departments. By starting with people where they are, and co-designing with them, the best solutions can be found. This is inclusive design at its best.

“Fair By Design and Money Advice Trust’s offer is to work with you so people can get the essential products and services they need at a price they can afford.

“We look forward to engaging with stakeholders throughout the year.”

Joanna Elson CBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “Job loss, ill health and a whole range of other circumstances can affect any of us at any time and the Coronavirus pandemic has brought this into even sharper focus. The problem is that too many services and products that we all rely on have been designed to be ‘one size fits all’ – often leaving people in vulnerable circumstances worse off.

“Inclusive design can reduce the chances of this happening by ensuring products, services and markets are designed to work well for all consumers.

“Regulators and firms have been making good progress on improving support for vulnerable customers – and there is a growing focus on improvements that can be made further ‘upstream’ in the product design process. We hope our new guidance will help firms in this important area.”