A new report from debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has claimed companies and financial organisations are labelling too many people as 'vulnerable' – meaning that those will genuine problems are being overlooked.
CAP's report Stacked Against says there is a great range in vulnerability and that it is not helpful to label too many as vulnerable.
According to chief executive Matt Barlow: 'It really is great that companies have heeded our message to help vulnerable clients but by lowering the bar to the extent they have, we are finding the most critically in need hidden in the crowd.
'For instance, some utility companies would regard all households with a child under five as vulnerable which, in many cases, will be a world away from someone in poor mental health with a terminal illness who has learning difficulties and is haunted by childhood trauma.
'The reality is, the most vulnerable people are suffering in multiple ways and the challenge for customer-facing teams – whether that be in public sector or a commercial setting – is to recognise them and have appropriately-trained teams with the compassion and time to truly help.'
The report found that when a number of difficult issues were faced at the same time, people found it harder to cope.
It researched the links between 14 different additional difficulties faced by CAP debt clients. These included caring for a loved one, unemployment, childhood trauma and lone parenting. It found that nearly seven in ten (67 per cent) were facing two or more issues and half are living with three or more.
Unemployment rarely seems to be experienced in isolation. Three in five (57 per cent) also had poor mental health and a quarter were caring for a loved one.
Of those who had been the victim of fraud or financial abuse, more than a third (38 per cent) were found to have suffered a trauma as a child, compounding their difficulties.
More than half (51 per cent) of those with five or more vulnerabilities said they had felt like ending their lives before getting the charity's holistic debt help.
CAP says customer service teams should 'step away from the script' and show empathy and flexibility, appreciate the scale of the challenges facing customers and collaborate across departments to make sure supportive policies work in practice.
Barlow said: 'As we walk into homes across the UK to bring help and hope, every day we come face-to-face with heart breaking and desperate situations. I am still shocked when I meet people and hear what they have been through and the resilience they have to show to simply get through the day.'