Ofcom Consultation Treating Vulnerable Customers Fairly

Posted on: 4th May 2022, by Magrathea

Ofcom have recently raised a consult with regards to the treatment of vulnerable customers when facing/dealing with debt. We have been looking into the proposed revisions so that we can share this information with our customers. The main points of interest are described in more detail below.

Where providers take steps to effect payment or are using service restrictions to encourage customers to pay.

Ofcom have suggested that providers should be very clear with their approach, ensuring customers can easily find out which measures the provider is intending to take and at what stages of the debt journey they can be expected.

Providers should support customers by using a phased approach to introducing service restrictions, where practical. Also, by avoiding introducing service restrictions for vulnerable customers who are particularly reliant on their communications services, unless absolutely necessary and all other options have been exhausted. Also protecting (where possible) calls to free helplines dedicated to protecting children, domestic abuse etc, even when service restrictions have been put in place.

Ofcom have also proposed that providers should help customers to prevent themselves from being disconnected by proactively emphasising the provider support available to customers in debt (eg payment deferrals or payment plans) in direct payment and debt related communications to customers and with debt advice organisations acting on their behalf.

They have also suggested that providers should make sure that support for customers is as easy to find as possible on their websites, and that providers should take into consideration their customers preferred communication channel when contacting a customer about their debt. If a customer has not expressed their preference or if they are not responding, providers should rotate between communication channels to increase the chance of reaching the customer.

For customers who are in debt or struggling to pay, Ofcom have said that providers should consider offering a ‘social tariff’ to allow eligible people (claimants of Universal Credit or other Government benefits) to access communications services at a discounted price. Customers in debt or who are struggling to pay should be told about the ‘social tariff’, it’s eligibility criteria and the sign-up process.

It has also been advised that providers should include information about where customers can access free debt advice (making people aware that not all debt advice organisations operate in the UK) in payment and collections related communications. This information should be clear and easy to find. Also, providers should make it as easy as possible for free debt advice organisations to represent their clients. Providers should make sure that all staff are aware that customers may ask a free debt advice organisation to act on their behalf.

And finally, Ofcom have advised that providers should help customers by trying to understand a customer’s individual circumstances before instructing debt collection agencies to pursue and by using debt collection agencies that have strong policies for treating vulnerable customers fairly.