In a groundbreaking new step to help protect vulnerable consumers, a group of concerned consumer credit industry professionals have today launched the Vulnerability Registration Service (‘VRS’), a not-for-profit initiative designed to protect people from financial hardship and combat the associated risks to mental health.
The VRS is a tool to help people who consider themselves to be financially vulnerable and in need of help to register their details online, free of charge, and indicate to businesses and organisations they deal with that they require sensitive handling and support. Legally authorised third parties are also able to register those for whom they care at no cost. [See here for examples of consumers already signed up to and benefiting from the VRS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBr-4R9RpEs].
Helen Lord, Director of the VRS, said: “We believe passionately that consumers have a right to be treated with care and respect in their interactions with businesses and organisations, particularly when their personal circumstances leave them more vulnerable to financial harm. We are encouraged by the positive response the VRS has enjoyed from businesses who, like us, can see the benefits that this initiative can bring to help them treat their customers fairly and compassionately throughout the relationship. We urge other like-minded organisations to work with us to really help transform the quality of life and peace of mind of vulnerable consumers.”
At an event in central London, the VRS register was formally unveiled to over 80 decision-makers and opinion-formers, including industry specialists in consumer protection; regulators; third-sector experts experienced in helping the vulnerable collections; and compliance and policy managers in financial services and utilities. Among the panel of speakers at the launch were financial journalist and broadcaster Paul Lewis; the CEO of the Consumer Credit Trade Association, Greg Stevens; Director of the Debt Managers Standards Association, Kevin Still; and Director of Christians Against Poverty, Dawn Stobart.
At the launch, the VRS published new survey data, commissioned from ComRes (fieldwork: 4-6 September 2019; sample: 2,009 GB adults), that clearly demonstrates the need for the kind of support the VRS tool provides, and the public desire for more significant action to be taken by businesses. The survey found that two in five GB adults have experienced a life event that left them feeling vulnerable, either financially or socially. The survey found that:
- 54% of the public think businesses definitely or probably should be required to identify whether a prospective customer is vulnerable in order that they can be better protected against harm; and
- 50% of the public believe that businesses should have more regulatory requirements on them to identify vulnerable consumers.
Currently only 15% of the public agree that businesses do enough to protect their vulnerable customers. Payday lenders and gambling companies were particularly identified as business types that should do more to identify vulnerable customers, with 58% and 57% respectively mentioning them.