7th October 2021

New consumer vulnerability guide

A new guide to help businesses look after the interests of potentially vulnerable consumers has been launched.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
There needs to be more of a push for businesses to help to identify vulnerability, to ensure that people get a fair deal, whatever they're doing

With consumers of all types and in all corners of the UK facing a rising tide of scams, Business Companion – a free service provided by CTSI on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – has published a new information resource to help businesses identify and assist vulnerable consumers.

Consumer vulnerability: A guide to identifying consumers who may be vulnerable’ consists of practical information and guidance designed to help staff spot consumers who may be at risk of being treated unfairly.

It outlines the reasons why a consumer may find themselves in a vulnerable situation, explains the different types of vulnerability, and provides useful resources such as a checklist to make sure such consumers are given support.

CTSI Lead Officer for Consumer Advice and Education, and Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, Louise Baxter, wrote the guidance. “We have seen fraud on the rise during the pandemic, so we started a campaign about how we can access those particularly vulnerable consumers,” she said. “People are not always aware that they’re vulnerable, so getting those messages to land is difficult.

“There needs to be more of a push for businesses to help to identify vulnerability, to ensure that people get a fair deal, whatever they’re doing. More people are likely to be vulnerable because of the lockdowns and potentially the mental health pandemic we’re going to get after that.”

One of the main focuses of the guidance is explaining how vulnerability is something that can apply to everyone at different times, as a result either of their personal circumstances, or the context of the market in which they are making a purchasing decision.

As Baxter explained: “There’s situational vulnerability; you could be vulnerable to falling for a scam due to bereavement, which more people are going to be struggling with, or loss of financial status. There’s also marketplace vulnerability. We’re expecting people to go ‘from bricks to clicks’ overnight, but with no training or education on how to shop safely.”

The guide was launched at last week’s CTSI Symposium, in which a panel of experts offered their views during a Plenary session entitled ‘Unprecedented times: Consumer vulnerability in a changing world.’

One of the panel speakers, Elisabeth Costa, Senior Director of Policy and Partnerships at the Behavioural Insights Team, said that in many cases, getting to grips with how consumers behave can help to tackle vulnerability and make business treat their customers more fairly. “A lot of the failures we see in consumer markets have behavioural roots,” she said. “When we think about things like why consumers don’t engage with terms and conditions and online privacy notices, you can trace that back to information overload, choice overload in attention.

“These are all behavioural biases and driven by how people are making decisions, which is interesting, not only to understand the root of the problem, but it also gives us some clues as to how we might solve these problems.”

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