Partner Feature: Vulnerability guidelines for debt collection

The Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) and The UK Cards Association launched a new research publication – Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection. Developed with the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC), the publication aims to help debt collection staff better identify and support customers in vulnerable circumstances.


The guide provides new data, new insights, and new recommendations for organisations working with indebted customers in vulnerable situations, and features a case study from Phoenix which illustrates the difference that appropriate handling can make to a customer in need of a little extra support.

During 2016, the research team captured the experiences of 1,600 frontline collections and specialist staff from 27 UK lenders and debt collection firms, and used them to develop 21 practical and commercially realistic steps to help staff deal with specific and often challenging vulnerabilities, such as serious or terminal illness, bereavement, addiction, and mental health issues.  

As part of their participation in the research study, Phoenix received a detailed report describing the experiences, views and working practices of their staff when working with customers in potentially vulnerable situations.

Based on a range of questions to analyse their confidence and ability to deal with vulnerable customers, their team returned an overall score of 72.4% against an industry average of 65%. This confirms their position as an industry leader in handling vulnerability.

The survey found that 50% of their frontline staff have been told that a customer may take their own life as opposed to an industry average of 36% showing the high impact enforcement can have on vulnerable customers. Reassuringly, 70% of their frontline staff agreed they had received sufficient training to deal with customers who may attempt to take their own life against an industry average of 37%.

Despite 100% of staff agreeing Phoenix have a clear policy for dealing with serious physical illness and terminal illness (industry average 74%) they still felt a need for more detailed training to assist them identify customers with specific illnesses. All staff have completed a refresher training course in vulnerability and mental health via the Money Advice Trust and Phoenix have since signed up to complete the new serious illness module as a result of these survey findings.

Carole Kenney, Customer Service & Performance Director commented: “Phoenix relished the opportunity to participate in this valuable piece of research. It was a bold move to benchmark ourselves against the larger debt recovery organisations and banking services but I am pleased with the results. There are always new situations to learn from and always a better way to do things. It is only by listening to our staff and peers that we can continue to improve the experience of those dealing with debt which in turn delivers a better outcome for the creditors we work for.”


Phoenix collaborated with Chris Fitch and Jamie Evans at the Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol on the study. Funded by the Finance and Leasing Association and The UK Cards Association, this study involved a representative survey of nearly 1600 frontline and specialist debt collection staff from 27 firms in the UK. The overall findings of the study can be downloaded at www.pfrc.bris.ac.uk, while each firm who participated received their own bespoke report comparing the findings from their staff to an industry average. For further details on this benchmarking for firms, please contact jamie.evans@bristol.ac.uk.

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