Focusing On Vulnerable Clients

A recent report by Key Partnership revealed that over a third of mortgage intermediaries had either reviewed or increased the checks they made on older customers to ensure that they were not vulnerable.

It was also found that one in five wealth managers were treating all customers as vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis.

The research found that concerns about property prices were causing clients to contact intermediaries, whereas 29% of intermediaries have clients with more time on their hands, leading to an increase in enquiries.

Jason Ruse, Business Development Director at Key Partnerships said:

“While not all older customers are vulnerable, they are an age group which is more likely to be vulnerable and self-isolation as well as the impact of the coronavirus on pensions and savings is likely to have seen more people considering their options. The focus on ensuring vulnerability is addressed is particularly important and the numbers of firms which have taken action or reviewed practices to ensure they are supporting clients underlines how important the issue is.”

The Private Client sector is also showing increased enquiries from clients, either to make the most of the estate they will be leaving their family, to write a will or draw up a LPA.

Although those in the Private Client sector do not deal with clients in the same way as those in the finance sector, the moral principles are the same, as well as the duties we owe clients, especially to those who are vulnerable.

The Law Society recently released guidance on ‘Meeting the needs of vulnerable clients‘, which helps professionals identify and meet the needs of clients who may have difficulty using legal services, or who may be at risk of acting against their own best interests.

Listing a multitude of ‘vulnerability indicators, the guidance also states that not all persons will be easily identifiable as being vulnerable, and that you should assume that your clients will not tell you of any difficulties.

The guidance offers useful information on how to best help your client by tailoring and making adjustments to meet their needs, as well a how best to help them at court.

Ian Bond, Chair of the Wills and Equity Committee at the Law Society and Head of Private Client at Talbots Law said:
“The new practice notes are a result of excellent joint work by the  law society’s Wills & Equity Committee and the its Mental Health and disability Committee. It brought together experts from both committees to give the most up to date and detailed guidance to the professional on best way to identify and meet the legal needs of vulnerable clients and deal with clients who lack the mental capacity to access legal services for themselves. They also signpost other resources that practitioners may also find useful.”

When asked about how they were considering their vulnerable clients, Tasnim Khalid, Head of Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning at JMW Solicitors, said:

“Like many firms, we have seen a spike in enquiries during the pandemic, for both wills and estate planning and LPA provision. As one would expect, mortality is at the forefront of many peoples’ minds, particularly the elderly. We have continued to visit vulnerable clients in care homes, using PPE and following strict rules – it’s vital that vulnerable people can continue to access support and advice.

“We know that some firms have elected not to visit vulnerable clients during the pandemic, particularly those in care homes, so it’s likely that there is a significant number of elderly people who have received no advice or in-person contact for 12-weeks or more.

“The coronavirus has changed the criteria of those whom we would have previously considered vulnerable, namely those in their 80s and 90s and those who have lost decision-making capacity. While a large proportion of enquiries have come from those groups, there are now millions of people considered clinically vulnerable and at particular-risk should they contract the disease. We have received a lot of enquiries from people within those groups – they want peace of mind knowing that their affairs are in order and their families will be looked after should the worst happen, particularly financially – the potential tax burden for those who die with assets intestate can be significant.

“The pandemic has brought about a change in thinking for millions of young and middle aged people who would never previously have considered themselves ‘vulnerable’. We have worked hard to support those people throughout, while obeying strict guidelines, whether that be distanced garden visits or zoom calls – we’ve even had enquiries from people hospitalised with Covid. It’s a very frightening time for a lot of people – they’re very anxious and want to be reassured that their wishes have been noted, so it’s important that we do whatever we can to support them.”

Emily Taylor, Partner at BDB Pitmans told us:

“We have certainly seen an increase in instructions since this pandemic and there is now a wider base of clients who are vulnerable.

All clients should initially be classed as vulnerable. We need to ensure they are not contacting us in a panic without thinking matters through, ensure there is no undue influence and that they have capacity to provide instructions. However, this can be difficult if you cannot meet clients face-to-face.

We have had to amend our practices to ensure our client’s needs can still be met whilst making sure they are protected. Zoom/Skype has proved helpful but not all of our clients have access to such devices. We have had such lovely weather that we have attended a lot of our clients in their garden to take instructions.

Keeping in regular contact with our clients is extremely important. A simple telephone call goes a long way.

I am a member of Rotary and many of our members are vulnerable and isolated. We have set up a Whatsapp group and regular Zoom meetings so we can keep in regular contact and ensure they are all ok.”

Following the recent guidance by the Law Society and the steps we can see being taken in the finance sector to widen the scope for clients that can be considered vulnerable, we would like to know whether you or your firm has increased the measures for ensuring vulnerable clients are catered for, and whether you had ‘widened the net’ for those they considered vulnerable. Please contact us on [email protected] or comment to let us know what steps you have taken.

 

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