Dunedin Advisory Limited is committed to ensuring that its Customer Care Policy is adhered to at all times. Our vulnerable customer policy forms a key part of our overall Customer Care Service.
2. Where We Are
Dunedin Advisory is committed to ensuring that the operations of our firm do not have any negative impact upon vulnerable customers. All of our personnel understand the effect financial distress and problems can have on individuals and there are extra precautions required to be taken in our dealings.
3. Who are our Vulnerable Customers?
Vulnerable customers are customers and prospective customers whose ability 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.
When engaging with customers over the phone it is often difficult to identify a vulnerable customer because it is not possible to see many of the characteristics, such as body language and facial expressions, which may identify whether the prospective customer 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 customers and to identify people who may be classed as a vulnerable customer.
Typical telephone characteristics include:
1. An ability to hear or understand what is being said
2. Repeated questions of a similar nature
3. Comments or answers which are inconsistent with the telephone discussion or which indicate an individual has not understood the information which has been provided
4. Verbal confirmation that they don’t understand, or they require the assistance of somebody else in making a decision
Our policy is, wherever possible, 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.
4. What to do if we are engaging with a Vulnerable Customer
Just because somebody is vulnerable does not automatically mean that they are unsuitable for the services the firm supplies. As soon as we think we may be engaging with a vulnerable customer we should immediately make a record of the same and ensure we adhere to this policy.
When speaking to the vulnerable customer we should:
• Provide additional opportunities for the customer to ask questions about the information we have provided.
• Continuously seek confirmation 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 after a period of consideration.
If for any reason we think the customer does not understand the service or information which is being offered to them, 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.
5. What is mental capacity?
Mental capacity is 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 a decision based on that information. The individual will also need to be able to communicate their decision to us.
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.
6. Making Decisions
Mental capacity is always defined in relation to a specific decision at a specific time. Consequently, when considering the provision of services, the firm should take account of the customer’s circumstances at the time at which the service or information is being offered.
The firm should take appropriate steps to identify whether or not the customer 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 (including fluctuating 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.
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
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 (including prescribed drugs) induced intoxication
A customer 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 firm 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 they have a condition of the type listed above. Our management team in the firm must be involved in all case administration relating to any customers we engage with who are deemed vulnerable.
7. Financial Literacy
Mental capacity is not the same as financial literacy – although in practice it may often be difficult for the firm to differentiate a limitation of one from a limitation of the other. In terms of a limitation of mental capacity, the customer has some impairment of mind or brain function.
Alternatively, an individual limited in financial literacy is likely to result from inadequate financial education rendering a customer unable to, or feeling insufficiently empowered to, manage their finances, engage confidently with firms, and make informed financial decisions.
Those with limitations in financial literacy and those with limitations in mental capacity can both be classified as groups of actual or potentially vulnerable customers by virtue of their respective limitations. Given that customers with either form of limitation (or both forms) might have difficulty making informed decisions – rather than taking steps with a view to seeking to differentiate between the two categories of persons – the firm will apply its Vulnerable Customer Policy in both circumstances.
While acknowledging that there are limits that the firm can reasonably be expected to go to in seeking to form a view as to whether or not a customer has, or may have, some form of capacity limitation, it is good practice in literature provided to customers prior to providing a product or service to invite customers to disclose (on a voluntary basis) whether there are any issues relating to their health or general well-being which may be relevant to the consideration of any advice or services provided by the firm.
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.
If a customer 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 firm to consider what reasonable steps might be taken in order to amend its ordinary processes to ensure that the customer is treated fairly and a positive outcome results for the customer.
8. Other types of vulnerable customers
In addition to mental health and financial literacy, other classifications where an individual could be considered as vulnerable can include:
• A specific disability or learning condition
• A deteriorating health condition
• Being an elderly individual
• A change in circumstance, financial, employment, bereavement or illness
• Financial hardship and adverse living conditions (including domestic abuse)
• Carer responsibilities
All Dunedin Advisory personnel are trained in effective communication and ensuring our high standards are delivered to all of our stakeholders. All areas of vulnerability must be fully documented and brought to the attention of our management team at a very early stage in stakeholder dialogue ensuring the appropriate level of policy standards are applied at all times.
9. Our key approach to dealing with Vulnerable Customers
• We must ensure at all times we operate effective means of communication following up verbal communications with written correspondence wherever possible.
• We provide opportunity for individuals to be provided with added support which can include:
– Additional time to provide information or respond to any of our requests
– Ability to take independent advice
– Sign posting to other sources of support (i.e. Citizens Advice Bureau, Department for Work and Pensions, Council departments, HMRC helplines, Accountant in Bankruptcy, Step Change)
– Ensuring our management team are appraised of cases with special needs
– Enabling face to face meetings
– Allowing family member or nominated representative interaction
– Flexibility and options whilst ensuring ongoing compliance.
• We must ensure we fully document all findings and advice provided. We set out our opinions clearly in writing for consideration.
• We seek expert opinion where necessary.
• Ensuring there is continuity with an allocated team member, and that the appropriate team member has the required experience and skill to deal with exceptional circumstances.
• Continual professional development and awareness for all personnel.