UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has detailed some of the practical measures
that phone, broadband and pay TV companies could adopt to protect vulnerable customers.
New conditions introduced in October 2018 required these companies to implement policies and procedures that ensure vulnerable customers are treated fairly. These cover people who are in debt, suffering physical or mental health problems, bereaved or victims of crime.
However, Ofcom notes that the coronavirus pandemic has increased the likelihood of customers' circumstances changing suddenly. It notes that 14.1 million people in the UK have a disability, 2.5 million people are living with cancer, almost 1 million people are affected by dementia, 1 in 6 adults experience common mental health problem every week and (in the last quarter of 2019) an average of 318 people were declared bankrupt or insolvent every day.
Jane Rumble, Director of Consumer Policy at Ofcom, said "We're setting out industry best practice to help ensure vulnerable people are treated fairly and sympathetically by their phone, broadband and pay TV providers. This is especially important at a time when many customers may be worried about their physical and mental health, as well as their finances."
Under Ofcom's guidelines, companies must publish clear, up-to-date policies which are easy to understand. It recommends that providers consult with experts, consumer bodies and charities to strengthen their understanding of different vulnerable customers' needs. In addition, it says providers should ask customers at the earliest opportunity whether they have any accessibility or customer service needs that the provider can help with.
Peter Tutton, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity
, said "We are really pleased to see the recognition that customers in arrears
will generally be vulnerable, and the regulatory expectation that firms will give them the support they need through breathing space, affordable repayment plans, social tariffs, or referrals to debt charities like us for more holistic debt advice. Communications services are vital tools of modern life, without which many vulnerable people would simply be unable to access other support services. Maintaining access on an affordable basis can play a crucial part in helping people get back on their feet financially in a wider sense."