Anybody can face circumstances that lead to them becoming vulnerable – temporarily or permanently. This might include physical or mental health problems, specific characteristics such as age or literacy skills, or changes in personal circumstances such as bereavement, job loss or changes in household income.
Ofcom's work for vulnerable people
We want people, especially those who are vulnerable, to receive good customer care when dealing with communications providers. We also want them to get the help, support and services they need. We’re carrying out work to make sure vulnerable customers are protected and can engage in communications markets.
Fairness for customers
We believe customers should be able to make informed choices about their communications services, and one of our priorities is to make sure customers are treated fairly. Our Fairness for Customers programme is all about helping to make sure people, particularly those who might be vulnerable, are treated fairly by the companies who provide their home phone, broadband, mobile and pay-TV services. This programme informs many of our key work areas such as switching, pricing, and the use of consumer data.
We have continued our work to ensure customers are treated fairly during the coronavirus pandemic. This has included setting expectations on providers to ensure that customers struggling to pay their phone or broadband bill during the pandemic are supported by their provider.
We have rules in place which require all UK communications providers to have clear, effective policies and procedures for identifying customers in vulnerable circumstances to make sure they treat those customers fairly and appropriately. We also have rules in place which require providers to offer specific services for their disabled customers, such as priority fault repair, text relay and free directory enquiries. They also include requirements on third-party bill management services and meeting the needs of customers with specific disabilities.
Examples of our work in this area include:
- proposing that deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users should have access to a free video relay service for contacting the emergency services, which would benefit deaf BSL users and the emergency services by making calls faster and more accurate;
- extending current rules from December 2021 so any customer who, due to a disability, might need their communications in an accessible format (such as braille or large print) can receive all information about their communications service in this way;
- publishing a guide of measures providers could adopt to help make sure they treat vulnerable customers fairly and give them the help, support and services they need; and
- identifying practices that could disadvantage vulnerable customers and working with providers on new commitments to help customers get a fair deal.
We have specific duties under the Communications Act to consider particular groups of people who might be vulnerable to harm. This means we must consider the needs and interests of those who are disabled, elderly, on low incomes or living in rural areas, as well as people who might need special protection because they are vulnerable.
- Ofcom’s General Conditions require providers to establish, publish and comply with clear and effective policies and procedures for treating vulnerable people fairly and appropriately.
- Information relating to the coronavirus pandemic, including an ‘easy read’ version on how to stay connected (PDF, 1.1 MB).
- Information relating to accessibility of communications services.
- Guidance on power of attorney.
- Guidance on how to manage debt.
- Guidance on unwanted calls, messages and scams, including an ‘easy read’ guide.
- Information on social tariffs available for people on low incomes.
- Information on making a complaint relating to phone, broadband and postal services, and TV, radio and on-demand programmes.
- Information on accessibility, diversity and inclusion relating to telecommunications and broadcasting.
We work alongside organisations including government, consumer groups and other regulators to share and improve our knowledge of vulnerable customers. We work with the UK Regulators’ Network (UKRN) on publications which cover power of attorney, getting extra help with essential services, and performance scorecards.
Ofcom is an affiliate member of the Essential Services Access Network (ESAN). ESAN’s purpose is to make sure essential services meet the people’s needs, particularly those who are vulnerable.