This document sets out the policy of Insolvency Support Services Ltd (“the Company”) on the way we respond to the need of our Vulnerable Clients. The Company is committed to ensuring that its operations do not have any negative impact upon vulnerable clients. Our Staff Members understand the effect financial distress and problems can have on individuals and there are extra precautions required to be taken in our dealings with a vulnerable client.
Who are our Vulnerable Clients?
Vulnerable clients are clients and prospective clients whose abilities or circumstances require us to take extra precautions in the way that we recommend and provide our services in order to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in any way.
Vulnerability may arise in a number of ways. Some common examples (though this list is not exhaustive) include:
- Mental capacity
- Financial literacy
- Infirmity Disability
- Sudden changes to employment or familial circumstances
- Adverse domestic circumstances
Mental capacity impacts upon a person’s ability to make a decision. Whether or not the person has the ability to understand, remember, and weigh up relevant information will determine whether he or she is able to make an informed decision. The individual will also need to be able to communicate their decision to us without doubt.
The mental capacity of a person may be limited in a way which prevents them from being able to make certain decisions because of impairment of, or disturbance in the functioning of, their mind or brain.
Mental capacity is defined in relation to a specific decision at a specific time. Consequently, when considering the provision of services, the Company should take account of the client’s circumstances at the time at which the service or information is being offered.
The Company should take appropriate steps to identify whether or not the client appears able to understand, remember, and weigh up the information and explanations provided to them, and when having done so, make an informed decision.
Mental capacity limitations can be either permanent or temporary, or may fluctuate over time. Consequently, the fact that a person may not have had the mental capacity to make a particular type of decision in the past, does not necessarily mean that they currently do not have, or will never have, the capacity to make such a decision. Consequently, the identification of mental capacity issues should be borne in mind at each interaction with the client.
Mental capacity limitations may also be partial. Under such circumstances the person concerned is likely to be able to make certain decisions but not others. Decisions that may require the understanding, remembering and weighing up of relatively complex information are likely to be more challenging for many individuals with mental capacity limitations than more straightforward situations.
Amongst the most common potential causes of mental capacity limitations are the following (this is a non- exhaustive list):
- Mental health condition
- Learning disability
- Developmental disorder
- Neuro-disability/brain injury
- Alcohol or drug -induced intoxication (including prescribed drugs)
A client or prospective client may be understood to have, or suspected of having, any of these (or other) conditions which are potential causes of mental capacity limitation (for example, a mental health condition) but that does not necessarily mean that they do not have the mental capacity to make an informed decision.
Our Company must ensure that we do not act in a manner that could be deemed to be a discrimination on a presumption that an individual does not have the mental capacity to make a particular decision based solely on the knowledge that he has a condition of the type listed above.
If an individual provides information which indicates that they do, or may, have some form of mental capacity limitation that might impact on their ability to make an informed decision, this should not lead to them automatically being denied access to the advice or services being sought; it should act as a trigger for the Company to consider what reasonable steps might be taken in order to amend its ordinary processes to ensure that the client is treated fairly and a positive outcome results for the individual concerned.
Where an actual or potential mental capacity vulnerability is brought to our attention during the conduct of a formal insolvency appointment, this must be documented in accordance with our Special Category Data Policy.
Where a mental capacity vulnerability is brought to our attention or suspected during pre-appointment or advisory stages, the explicit consent of the client is required to make a record of this information.
Our management team must be involved in all case administration relating to any client we engage with who are known or suspected to have mental capacity vulnerability, irrespective of whether we are able to maintain a record of that vulnerability.
Mental capacity is not the same as financial literacy – although in practice it may often be difficult for the Company to differentiate a limitation of one from a limitation of the other. In terms of a limitation of mental capacity, the client has some impairment of mind or brain function.
An individual limited in financial literacy, likely result from inadequate financial education, may render a client unable to, or feel insufficiently empowered to, manage their finances, engage confidently with the Company, and make informed financial decisions.
Those with limitations in financial literacy and those with limitations in mental capacity can be classified as groups of actual or potentially vulnerable clients by virtue of their respective limitations. Given that clients with either form of limitation (or both forms) might have difficulty making informed decisions, the Company will apply its Vulnerable Client Policy in both circumstances.
Other types of vulnerable clients
In addition to mental capacity and financial literacy, other classifications where an individual could be considered as vulnerable may include:
- A specific disability or learning condition;
- A deteriorating health condition;
- Substance abuse issues;
- Being an elderly individual;
- A sudden change in circumstance: financial, employment, relationship breakdown, bereavement, illness or injury;
- Financial hardship and adverse living conditions (including domestic abuse);
- Carer responsibilities.
Where such issues are identified, Staff Members should be mindful of their impact and that such circumstances may warrant us taking extra precautions in the way that we recommend and provide our services, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged in any way. Staff Members with any concerns about a potential area of vulnerability should discuss these with their Line Manager, and where they are identified as being sufficiently serious in nature, or in combination with other issues, the Vulnerable Client Policy should be applied.
It has been suggested that being in debt is by its very nature a form of vulnerability. However, given the nature of our services is intended to alleviate the client’s debt problems, being in debt alone will not, without the presence of further additional vulnerability indicators, warrant the application of the Vulnerable Client Policy. However, where there is a significant doubt about a client’s vulnerability, it should ordinarily be applied.
In some instances, information about actual or potential vulnerability will be provided to us by third parties (such as the Official Receiver, Accountant in Bankruptcy, advice agencies, creditors, family members or social workers). In other instances, information about vulnerability might be volunteered by the client themselves during an interaction between them and a member of staff.
Whenever we receive information that indicates that the client may be subject to an actual or perceived vulnerability, irrespective of the source of that information, Staff Members should consider both our Vulnerable Client Policy and Special Category Data Policy. Clients should be supplied with the appropriate Privacy Notice at the first opportunity.
In other instances, we may formulate our own concerns about actual or potential vulnerability. Whilst acknowledging that there are limits that the Company can reasonably be expected to go to in seeking to form a view as to whether or not a client has, or may have, some form of vulnerability, it is good practice to invite clients to disclose (on a voluntary basis) whether there are any issues relating to their health, general well-being or other circumstances which may be relevant to the consideration of any advice or services provided by the Company.
Any such invitation should make very clear that the only purpose such information would be used for would be to better facilitate an informed service or advice being provided. It should also be made clear that a record of that information may be retained in accordance with our Special Category Data Policy and the appropriate Privacy Notice supplied to them.
Engaging with clients by telephone or other remote means
Wherever possible, we offer to provide guidance and recommendations on debt solution options to individuals by conducting face to face meetings. This enables us to identify some aspects of vulnerability through body language and facial expressions. However, we recognise that our client may prefer to engage with us over the telephone or by other remote means, for reasons of accessibility, convenience, geographical location or other reasons relevant to their individual personal circumstances.
When engaging with clients by telephone it may be more difficult to identify a vulnerable client because it is not possible to see many of the characteristics, such as body language and facial expressions, which may identify whether the prospective client requires additional information and guidance to enable them to make an informed decision. For this reason, it is critically important to listen carefully to all clients and to identify people who may be classed as a vulnerable client.
Typical telephone characteristics include:
- An ability to hear or understand what is being said;
- Repeated questions of a similar nature;
- Comments or answers which are inconsistent with the telephone discussion or which indicate an individual has not understood the information which has been provided;
- Verbal conation that they don’t understand, or they require the assistance of somebody else in making a decision.
Similarly, when engaging via other remote means, a client’s communications may indicate an absence of understanding or a need for additional assistance. The presence of these indicators should precipitate a dialogue with the client about any potential areas of vulnerability they may wish to disclose and thereafter, the application of the Vulnerable Client Policy.
What to do if we are engaging with a Vulnerable Client
Just because a client or prospective client is vulnerable or potentially vulnerable, this does not automatically mean that they are unsuitable for the services the Company supplies. In some instances, they may have no direct choice in our involvement in their affairs, by virtue of a formal insolvency appointment and their vulnerability will need to be factored into our dealings with them.
As soon as we think we may be engaging with a vulnerable client we should immediately ensure we adhere to this policy and, where appropriate, make a record of the vulnerability in accordance with the Special Category Data Policy, and bring this to the attention of our management team at a very early stage in the client relationship.
When communicating with a vulnerable or potentially vulnerable client we should:
- Provide additional opportunities for the client to ask questions about the information we have provided;
- Continuously seek conation that they have understood the information that has been provided;
- Ask if there is anybody with them who is able to assist them;
- Offer them the opportunity to discuss matters again and/or in person, after a period of consideration.
If for any reason we think the client does not understand the service or information which is being offered to them, or to which they are subject, we must advise them that we will write to them with further information about our advice and services and provide them with an added opportunity to obtain additional support.
Our key approach to dealing with Vulnerable Clients
- We must ensure, at all times, that we operate effective means of communication, following up verbal communications with written correspondence wherever possible;
- We provide the requisite Privacy Notices at the first available opportunity and ensure that vulnerability information is documented in accordance with our Special Category Data Policy;
- We provide opportunity for individuals to be provided with added support which and can include:
- Additional time to provide information or respond to any of our requests;
- Ability to take independent advice;
- Ensuring our management team are appraised of cases with special needs
- Enabling / facilitating face to face meetings
- Allowing family member or nominated representative interaction (subject to appropriate consent being obtained from the client)
- Flexibility and options (whilst ensuring ongoing compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements).
- Sign posting to other sources of support, as appropriate, by providing our Sources of Additional Help and Advice literature;
- We ensure we fully document the advice we provide. We set out our opinions clearly in writing for consideration;
- We seek expert opinion / external assistance where necessary;
- We provide continuity with an allocated team member, and that the appropriate team member has the required experience and skill to deal with exceptional circumstances;
- We treat all disclosures of vulnerability with courtesy, sensitivity and appropriate levels of confidentiality;
- We provide relevant Continual Professional Development and awareness training for all Staff Members.
Training, Continuing Professional Development and Support
To ensure that our high standards are delivered to all of our stakeholders at all times, all Staff Members are trained in effective communication and Vulnerable Client Policy awareness.
Refresher training on this and other core Client Service issues is provided periodically, with external support where appropriate. Any Staff Members who believe they would benefit from further or additional training are invited to discuss this with their Line Manager.
Where a Staff Member does not feel competent to engage with a client due to their particular vulnerabilities, they should make their Line Manager aware at the earliest opportunity.
Whilst it is important for all Staff Members to be aware of areas of vulnerability or potential vulnerability, and to act courteously and sensitively towards any such issues as may be identified, it is equally important to recognise that Staff Members are not qualified to advise on how specific vulnerabilities may be addressed by the client. Staff Members should therefore refrain from providing information or opinions that are beyond their sphere of professional expertise (however well-intentioned that intervention may be) and signpost to appropriate sources of further advice and assistance by providing the Company’s Sources of Additional Help and Advice literature.