Vulnerable Client Policy
This document sets out the policy of Cromwell Insolvency Limited t/a Liquidations Online on the way we respond to the need of our vulnerable clients.
In accordance with CONC 8.2.7:
"A firm must establish and implement clear and effective policies and procedures to identify particularly vulnerable customers and to deal with such customers appropriately."
We are committed to ensure that we do not have any negative impact upon vulnerable clients. We understand the effect financial distress and problems can have on an individual and there are extra precautions we must take when dealing with a vulnerable client.
What is a Vulnerable Client?
The Financial Conduct Authority ("FCA") defines a vulnerable client as:
"A vulnerable consumer is someone who, due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care."
Some common examples of vulnerability include:
||Low or erratic income
||Low knowledge or confidence in managing financial matters
Severe or long-term illness
Poor literacy or numeracy skills
Hearing or visual impairments
Low English language skills
Poor mental health
Low emotional resilience
Poor or non-existent digital skills
Low mental capacity or cognitive disabilities
Having non-standard requirements such as ex-offenders, care leaver, refugees
Lack of support structure
Mental capacity impacts upon a person’s ability to make a decision. Whether or not the person has the ability to understand, remember and consider relevant information will determine whether he/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, we should take account a client’s particular circumstances at the time at which the service or information is being offered.
We should take appropriate steps to identify whether or not a client appears able to understand, remember, and consider the information and explanations provided to them, and when having done so, make an informed decision.
Mental capacity limitations can be permanent, 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. The identification of mental capacity should be borne in mind at each interaction with a 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 consideration of relatively complex information are likely to be more challenging for many individuals with mental capacity limitations than more straightforward situations.
A client or prospective client may be understood to have, or suspected of having, any of the conditions above 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.
We 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/she 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 to automatically being denied access to the advice or services being sought, it should act as a trigger for us 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.
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 us 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 us, 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, we will apply our Vulnerable Client Policy in both circumstances.
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 our Vulnerable Client Policy. However, where there is a significant doubt about a client’s vulnerability, it should ordinarily be applied.
How we Identify Vulnerability
In some instances, information about actual or potential vulnerability may be provided to us by third parties (such as the Official Receiver, advice agencies, creditors, family members or social workers). In other instances, information about vulnerability might be brought to our attention by the client himself/herself during an interaction between them and a member of our 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, our staff members should consider our Vulnerable Client Policy. Clients should be supplied with our Vulnerable Client Policy 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 we 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 us.
Any such invitation should make very clear that the only purpose of such information would be used 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 Privacy Notice.
Engaging with Clients
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 our Vulnerable Client Policy.
Just because a client or prospective client is vulnerable or potentially vulnerable, this does not automatically mean that they are unsuitable for the services that we provide. 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 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 Approach in Dealing with Vulnerable Clients
We must ensure, at all times, that we operate effective means of communication and follow up verbal communications with written correspondence wherever possible. In addition, we must ensure that vulnerability information is documented.
If appropriate, we will ensure that individuals are provided with added support which may include additional time to provide information or respond to any of our requests; ability to take independent advice; ensure our management team are appraised of cases with special needs; enabling / facilitating face to face meetings; allowing a 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); recommend to the client other sources of support; ensure we fully document the advice we provide; set out our opinions clearly in writing for consideration; seek expert opinion / external assistance where necessary; provide continuity with an allocated team member, and that the appropriate team member has the required experience and skill to deal with exceptional circumstances; treat all disclosures of vulnerability with courtesy, sensitivity and appropriate levels of confidentiality and provide relevant continual professional development and awareness training for all staff members.
All our staff members are trained in effective communication and Vulnerable Client Policy awareness. Training on this is provided periodically, with external support where appropriate.
Where a staff member does not feel competent to engage with a client due to their particular vulnerabilities, they should make the management team 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. staff members should therefore refrain from providing information or opinions that are beyond their area of professional expertise.