Workshop: What dementia can teach us about vulnerability

Ombudsman Services | Oct 23, 2019

Following calls to continue with our series of vulnerability workshops for communications providers, we recently hosted a fourth on the topic of dementia. The focus on dementia was in response to requests to cover mental health. As the area of mental health is such a broad topic, we decided to centre our conversations around dementia although vulnerability more generally was discussed. Around 20 delegates attended from across the telecoms sector.

Dementia workshop

In addition to hearing from guest speakers, delegates contributed to group discussions. These sessions saw debate around how companies and the wider telecoms industry can better support customers with dementia, as well as providing the opportunity for delegates to discuss vulnerability strategy more generally.

Ofcom’s proposed guide for supporting vulnerable consumers (https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-2/treating-vulnerable-consumers-fairly) was discussed in terms of practical application of the proposals, with delegates welcoming the proposals as useful for setting industry-wide standards and encouraging greater consistency across the sector.

Guest speakers

Angharad Jones - senior programme partnerships officer, Alzheimer’s Society

Angharad joined us from Alzheimer’s Society to talk about the nature and impact of dementia and how, if you get support right for customers with dementia, you could get it right more broadly for consumers in vulnerable circumstances.

Steve Brogden - senior consumer vulnerability manager, British Gas

Steve talked to us about British Gas’ journey to becoming more dementia friendly, sharing ideas and tips around the practical application of initiatives to support vulnerable consumers.

Five things we learned

1. It’s free to support customers with dementia!

There are support initiatives that don’t have to cost your company money. For example, Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is free for individuals and organisations. The aim is to raise awareness of the condition and to demonstrate how compassion can go a long way to helping someone with dementia to lead a full life.

Alzheimer’s Society offers a number of resources aimed at helping organisations provide better support for those with dementia. One resource of particular relevance here is the Dementia Friendly Utilities Guide. This free guide contains information and advice for utilities organisations looking to support customers with dementia through colleague training, product development and communication.

Similar to our workshops, British Gas runs vulnerability open days to bring together organisations from across the utilities sector. The open days facilitate sharing of best practice and networking for colleagues across the industry.

2. Dementia is progressive

Dementia is a progressive condition and, as such, worsens over time. The level of support required by a customer with dementia at your first contact with them may change over time.

If a customer has previously disclosed dementia to you, and there are further support options available, you may wish to ask them if they require any additional support at each point of contact with them.

3. Vulnerability could include a fear of being vulnerable

Angharad talked about how, for people with dementia, the fear of being vulnerable or being perceived as vulnerable can add to their worries.

This means that people may not be forthcoming with disclosure of a potential vulnerability if they don’t trust a company to treat them fairly. Understanding this – and putting steps in place to encourage self-disclosure – is the first step to supporting someone in vulnerable circumstances.

4. The Three Rs

When talking about the three Rs, Steve from British Gas wasn’t talking about reading, writing and arithmetic!

Recognise, record and respond are Steve’s three tools for success when it comes to supporting people in vulnerable circumstances:

Recognise

Has the contact agent picked up on signs of vulnerability? Signs could range from unusual spending habits on the customer’s account to forgetful behaviour on a call.

Record

Has the contact agent correctly recorded details of the customer’s vulnerability on their account?

Respond

An appropriate response could be talking through a specific product, referring the customer to a specialist team or signposting to a third-party organisation.

5. Dementia support can help others

The effects of dementia are wide-ranging and not limited to the condition itself. For example, people with dementia may find themselves in financially vulnerable circumstances due to the cost of care or they may feel socially isolated due to a loss of independence.

As such, much of what we’ve learned about dementia support can be applied to people in vulnerable circumstances more generally.

What our delegates have to say

“The two guest speakers were great. I walked away with lots of questions and points to consider for our business to ensure we look after vulnerable customers as best as we can.”

“Great to share best practice and learn what other businesses are doing in the sector, I took so much away from today.”

Get in touch

Our vulnerability workshops were launched in response to changes introduced by Ofcom on 1 October 2018, which placed a requirement on communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures in place for identifying vulnerable customers.

If you’re interested in attending a future workshop, please email OSAccountManagers@Ombudsman-Services.org

Spaces are limited but we will always strive to accommodate attendees wherever possible.