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Resources for vulnerable people during the cost of living crisis

Resources for vulnerable people during the cost of living crisis

As we face a daunting cost of living crisis, Helen Lord, CEO of the Vulnerability Registration Services, shares advice for vulnerable people 

We are in the midst of one of the most serious cost of living crises seen yet. The rate at which energy, food and fuel prices are soaring is affecting millions of households. Even those that have typically managed to stay on top of their bills in the past are now preparing to face a very difficult winter, and too many are having to make a choice between "eating or heating”.

For those already in highly vulnerable circumstances, however, the impact is far worse. These are people who are more fragile and unable to engage fully or effectively, or manage their day-to-day affairs properly. Our research shows that currently, 24.5 million adults (45 per cent of the population) are being affected by circumstances that can lead to them becoming vulnerable. Their circumstances have resulted from mental or physical illnesses/conditions, low levels of capability or resilience, or temporary life events, such as relationship breakdown, job loss or bereavement

"Finding out what support is available is made significantly more challenging for those who are already vulnerable"

As more people struggle to keep their heads above water against the rising costs of living, 16 per cent of the general population now say they are in severe financial distress. Among society’s most vulnerable people, this number is much higher at 27 per cent. Trying to resolve debt, or even just finding out what support is available, can be hard enough for anyone in the current environment, but it’s made significantly more challenging for those who are already vulnerable. 

An unfair environment for vulnerable people 

Instead of being identified and supported appropriately by the organisations that serve them—banks, financial services, energy companies, telcos and housing providers—their circumstances are often being made worse.

Debt and financial trouble

Support for vulnerable people is not always easy to find

For example, despite their already vulnerable circumstances, they are more likely than other energy customers to be moved onto prepayment meters (8 per cent of vulnerable UK adults compared to 4 per cent of the general population). This is the most expensive way to pay energy bills

More people are seeking additional finance to help stay on top of rising food and energy costs, but also to keep a roof over their heads. Our research shows that 10 per cent of vulnerable people in the UK have been evicted, subject to a repossession or put at risk of homelessness in the last 12 months. 

"Instead of being identified and supported, their circumstances are often being made worse"

Despite their struggle to keep on top of payments, they’ve found themselves most likely to be steered towards “high-cost” borrowing rather than offered more affordable or appropriate alternatives—12 per cent of vulnerable people have taken out high interest borrowing in the last 12 months compared to 6 per cent of the general population. Soon some will find that they’re unable to keep on top of both their newly acquired high-cost finance and their existing bills, and are being chased for payments. The stress can be unbearable, making it even harder for them to engage with the organisations chasing them. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Sadly, it also makes them easy targets for fraudsters, financial abuse and loan sharks. Our research shows that they are almost twice as likely to find themselves in these circumstances than those who are not vulnerable.

What can people who have fallen into vulnerable circumstances do?

No one wants to be in debt or bombarded with letters, texts and calls chasing payments, or have bailiffs turning up on their doorstep. Support is available, but it’s not easy to find. There are many charities and organisations, however, focused on helping the most vulnerable find the support to which they are entitled. Changing Lives, for example, exists to help people experiencing the most challenging of circumstances, working with them to address the causes of their social exclusion and long-term deprivation. 

Financial support

Thankfully there are resources available, and the Vulnerability Registration Service can help you access them

People in abusive relationships who are being coerced into applying for finance for their abusers can find support with organisations like Abused Men in Scotland and Refuge. The England Illegal Money Lending Team plays a vital role in the lives of those who turned to loan sharks in desperation, only to find themselves a far worse situation.

It’s worth knowing that service providers in all sectors have a responsibility to treat all their vulnerable customers fairly and ensure they are not caused further harm. This is why it is vital for vulnerable people, and those who have responsibility for vulnerable people, to make organisations aware of them.

"The Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) is a free service that people can register with"

But we know it isn’t easy for those already struggling with their circumstances to then approach all the different services providers and repeat their difficult story each time.  

The Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) is a free service that people can register with. They only have to do this once. Their vulnerable circumstances are then flagged to the organisations that search the VRS database, whether they are lenders, energy firms or debt collectors. Organisations using the database will be able to ensure that any engagement with those individuals is appropriate and fair. They can also give them access to the support they are entitled to and, hopefully, prevent them falling further into debt.

Helen Lord

Helen Lord is the CEO of the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS), a free service that vulnerable customers and their representatives can register with to help them inform service providers including banking, financial services, utilities, telcos and housing of their vulnerable circumstances

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