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Why a consmer you interact with may be vulnerable

14.1 million UK residents have a disability 318 consumers per day in the UK are declared bankrupt or insolvent
One in six adults experience common mental health problems every week One in four consumers experience mental health issues each year
23% of UK consumers suffer anxiety when dealing with service providers 792 million consumers are affected by mental health issues worldwide
2.5 million consumers in the UK are living with cancer One in six working-age adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health
1 million consumers in the UK are affected by dementia

Poor mental health and vulnerability

Consumers with poor mental health are at an increased risk of experiencing poor outcomes in markets. These consumers may be less likely to get a good deal from a supplier, for example, through switching or shopping around, because of the challenges they experience in these forms of engagement. This can mean these consumers may be paying more than they need to for services. Consumers with poor mental health can also feel the effects of experiencing poor outcomes in markets more severely. For example, these consumers are more likely to experience financial harm, which can mean they are more likely to be behind on their bills or suffering financial problems.

Identifying vulnerabilities

These things don’t necessarily make a consumer vulnerable, but they indicate that they could be.

Health: Any long-term disability, impairment, illness or age-related conditions, and additional needs.
Life events: Major life events such as bereavement, redundancy, retirement, loss of income, divorce or a relationship breakdown.

Resilience: Difficulty in enduring financial or emotional shock due to debt or a one-off unexpected expense; lack of support in the family and friend structure, or a disempowered status.

Capability: Low knowledge and education related to finance and budgeting; lack of digital skills or low confidence in managing money, usually due to the above or another barrier to learning such as disadvantage, inexperience, English as a second language, or additional educational needs.

What businesses can do

If a consumer shows any of these signs, this may be an indication they are vulnerable. Once a consumer has shown signs of vulnerability, then steps can be taken to support them (however, businesses should always be taking steps to ensure they are acting responsibly towards every consumer).

For example:

  • Consider communication preferences
  • Don’t make assumptions about the consumer
  • Ask the consumer what they need and how you can help them better
  • Empathise and sympathise with the consumer
  • Try asking questions in a different way
  • Summarise what has been decided or agreed in plain English

Consider this when talking to consumers:

Be REAL
R. Retain Is the consumer able to retain and repeat the information you give them? Do you have to repeat what you have said over and over again?
E. Explain Is the consumer able to properly explain or communicate the decision they have made? Are they joining in the discussion or just agreeing with what you are saying? Are they asking questions that aren’t related to what you are saying?
A. Able Is the consumer able to understand what they are being told?
L. Listen Is the consumer able to listen, follow and understand the discussion taking place, or are they just repeating what you say?

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