Collections staff frequently dealing with suicidal calls

One in four collections agents have engaged with someone believed to be suicidal, according to a new report.

Collections staff frequently dealing with suicidal calls

The report, Vulnerability; a guide for debt collection, reveals huge progress in how the collections industry treats vulnerable customers. It has been launched by the Finance and Leasing Association (FLA) and The UK Cards Association in partnership with Chris Fitch at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre.

The research team behind the paper surveyed around 1,600 frontline collections and specialist staff from 27 UK lenders and debt collection firms.

Across a 12-month period, 657 conversations were held between frontline collections staff and customers believed to be at serious risk of suicide.

The report considered these findings at scale over a single year and the number of suicide disclosures, believed to be serious, were:

  • 2-3 in a frontline collections team of 10
  • 13 in a frontline collections department of 50
  • 63 in a large call centre of 250 frontline staff
  • 125 in a multi-site firm of 500 frontline staff

The findings in the paper have been used to develop 21 practical and commercially realistic steps to be shared across the credit industry for the benefit of customers, but have also been adapted for use in sectors such as utilities, telecoms, retail and government.

The guide describes strategies to help staff deal with specific vulnerabilities, such as serious or terminal illness, bereavement, addiction, and mental health issues.

Stephen Sklaroff, director general of the FLA, said: “’Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection’ will be a great resource for firms in the credit industry, and will benefit customers by helping ensure prompt and practical help when they need it most.”

Graham Peacop, chief executive at The UK Cards Association, said: “It is positive to see how the industry has moved on since Chris Fitch conducted his original research in 2010.
“However we are never complacent and this new research will enable our members to continue to develop the support they provide to their staff and to vulnerable customers.”

In June this year, a second report on vulnerability, from the same team, will look at other parts of the lending markets. This report will aim to provide further insight into the effective identification and support of vulnerable customers across the full credit lifecycle.