Vulnerable Customer Policy

Introduction

Rocket Residential aim to provide an excellent service to all our customers but our vulnerable customers are a top priority.

As a key part of Treating Customers Fairly approach, it is particularly important for us to treat and manage our vulnerable customers in the right way and with a high level of care and sensitivity.

We must where possible take into account any special needs or requirements our customers may have for example, through sight impairment to help them access our services. It is also very important that we use the information in relation to any vulnerability with the specific agreement of our customer and in the right way, for their benefit.

It is never easy to decide if a customer is vulnerable or not; however, with sensitive and appropriate questioning we should seek to encourage disclosure of such matters, and therefore we should be able to identify such customers and manage them appropriately.

We are all aware of the publicity that the scale of potentially vulnerable customers we may come in contact with has increased considerably. Reports of some research stated that:

  • Many adults have literacy skills that are expected of a young child
  • A high percentage of UK adults have a numeracy attainment age well below the expected levels
  • Many adults do not have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill of a few hundred pounds hence the growth of payday lenders
  • The percentage of the UK population aged 85 or over is increasing rapidly
  • It is reported that up to 25% of adults will experience at least one mental illness or disorder per year
  • The percentage of working age adults with a disability is also increasing

Why care about vulnerable customers? Whilst we are not medically qualified and it’s ultimately not our responsibility, we should still care about the circumstances of our customers:

  • Because a better understanding of an individual’s circumstances allows us to treat customers fairly
  • Because taking customers disabilities or difficulties into account allows us to better achieve our commercial objectives
  • Because we have legal responsibilities in terms of recognising vulnerable customers, particularly those with mental health issues

If we don’t recognise customer vulnerabilities it is possible:

  • The customers vulnerability could become worse, for example, if the customer suffers from a mental illness and this has not been recognised, the customer could become more distressed and anxious as a result of on-going contact – which could have been managed had we identified the customers vulnerability
  • The customer will have an increased likelihood of having to make additional contact with us, resulting in added cost to the business in managing that customer’s expectations.

Essentially, it is in all parties’ interests that we are able to identify and effectively manage vulnerable customers as early as possible during our dealings with them.

How do we know about any vulnerability/vulnerable customers?

There is no single definition of a vulnerable customer but the general description reported says that:

“A vulnerable consumer is someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to struggling to cope with life generally or any negative circumstances”

The health specialists warn against an oversimplified and inflexible definition of a vulnerable consumer as vulnerable can be temporary, infrequent or permanent in nature. It is often a continually moving situation that requires a flexible and sensitive response from companies.

By nature of trading as a property specialist, several of our customers could be considered vulnerable simply by virtue of their difficult financial circumstances or their lack of knowledge and understanding of the sales or letting process. Many of our customers have come to us for help as they need a new property solution due to a change in their circumstances. When dealing with us, especially if we do not act with care when providing assistance and advice which is in their best interests we can add to their problems.

It is therefore important we have appropriate approaches and have training in place to help us recognise those who are particularly vulnerable in order for the best advice and assistance to be provided to them by all our staff.

As stated above, vulnerability is a wide-ranging term and there is no single definition, however, types of customers who may be particularly vulnerable include:

  • Pregnant women or recent parents
  • Long term sickness, serious illness or frailty
  • Elderly
  • People dealing with an unexpected change in circumstances ie redundancy
  • Physical disability
  • People with learning difficulties, or mental health problems
  • Recent bereavement experienced
  • Severe financial difficulties and/or difficulty understanding and coping with the various benefits available or because they have changed for some reason
  • Customers with communication difficulties
  • Customers with a history of alcohol and drug misuse
  • Victims of domestic violence

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Our customers may perhaps fit one (or more) of the groups above but that does not necessarily mean the customer is vulnerable.

Vulnerability occurs when the circumstances of the customer affects how they are able to deal with their affairs, for example, a customer with learning difficulties could be considered vulnerable at the point they contact us to use our services, as they may not fully understand what our services can provide for them. Just because someone has learning difficulties that does not necessarily mean we should assume that cannot understand our processes and the selling or letting process. Whilst this makes it very difficult for us, we need to take care in providing the right services for the customer at the right level so that they do not receive a detrimental service.

Do not assume vulnerability

It is very important that we do not assume that a customer is vulnerable, as the law states we should always presume mental capacity exists. For example, we could speak to an 80 year old who is confident and perfectly able, yet you could also speak to a 40 year old suffering from dementia who is not as able.

Use the list below to assist you in establishing whether you believe a customer may be particularly vulnerable or not:

  • Clearly not understanding what they are agreeing to
  • Becoming upset whilst struggling to understand what they are applying for
  • Is clearly unable to understand/retain the information and explanations you provide
  • Appears confused about the personal or financial information you are seeking
  • Appears unable to recall or communicate basic personal information
  • Provides conflicting answers to questions
  • Asks the same question repeatedly
  • Appears to have no awareness of their own circumstances
  • Makes decisions that are unexpected and/or out of character
  • Is known to have previously been diagnosed with an impairment or disturbance of the mind or brain, and it was established that the customer lacked the capacity to make certain decisions at that time
  • Is unable to assess information provided for the purposes of helping him/her to make an informed decision
  • A third party raising a concern which needs to be investigated further

A useful technique to use if you feel that your customer may be exhibiting one of the above is to ask them to repeat to you what you have just explained to them and that way you may be able to establish their understanding.

This is not easy but well worthwhile if we can achieve a positive result.

On-going customer care

We need to bear in mind that the circumstances affecting the customer could be long term, short term but also may not begin until after we have begun interacting with them in our business relationship.

Throughout our dealings, we should keep in mind not only the commercial outcomes we wish to achieve, but also the steps that would bring about better customer outcomes for their health and financial wellbeing.

We should seek to have the customer confirm to us how their condition affects them and how they feel we can best help them.

Confidentiality

Any customer we may identify as vulnerable should be reassured that we will not disclose this information outside of Rocket Residential.

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