With less than two weeks until Christmas, our thoughts inevitably turn to decorating the tree and curling up by the fire. But for over three million UK households affected by fuel poverty, it could be a cold, cold Christmas ahead. And many millions more financially vulnerable people will struggle to keep the chestnuts roasting this Christmas.
Research from Baringa Partners, conducted earlier this year, exposed financial vulnerability as one of society's greatest hidden problems. A staggering one in three adults in the UK consider themselves to be financially vulnerable; yet only between three and four percent are classified as such by energy and banking companies, respectively.
Vanessa Clark from Baringa Partners, commented:
"Christmas should be a time of year for celebrating with friends and family. But for many people, the reality is very different as they struggle to cope with the financial pressures associated with the holiday.
"We know that the disconnect between energy and banking firms' views of their customers and individuals' view of their own circumstances is mirrored in other industries. Not only are companies failing to help 90% of vulnerable people, they are also failing to properly manage the risk that a third of their customers may default on their bills.
"With one in three people set to borrow money to cover the cost of food and presents over Christmas, it is clear that companies in all sectors need to better understand the challenges facing their vulnerable customers and move away from treating them as exceptional cases."
According to Baringa, this will require a significant exercise in re-building trust. Its research showed that two in three vulnerable customers do not think organisations should proactively try to identify them. It is likely they resent 'big brother' prying into their financial affairs and feel there is a stigma associated with being seen as vulnerable.
Vanessa Clark from Baringa Partners said:
"Companies from all industries, regulators and the third sector need to work together to address two major challenges. First, they need to work smarter with the data they collectively have to identify customers and embed that knowledge across all records and supporting systems. This information then needs to travel with the customer and not get lost at the point of switching; a mechanism to support Priority Service Register (PSR) collaboration, for example, is crucial. Second, they need to help customers feel comfortable being identified in the first place. This may mean changing the language we use around vulnerability to improve levels of trust.
"Christmas can be one of the toughest times of year for vulnerable customers. With the additional costs of presents and food, many of the hardest hit have to decide between keeping warm and celebrating Christmas. This is not a choice they should have to make."