Recognising and responding to consumer vulnerability

Guest Blog – Catherine Wolthuizen – Road testing our new guide

Catherine WolthuizenFor some months now, the Panel has been developing a guide for regulators on how they can best identify and respond to vulnerable consumers in legal services. We’ve based our approach on the British Standard on Inclusive Service Provision (BS18477), which we adopted in 2012.

In a nutshell, our approach in this new guide is to shift the definition of vulnerable away from a static ‘label’ based on particular characteristics, such as a learning disability. Instead, we’ve asked regulators – and ourselves – to view vulnerability as the consequence of risk factors meeting legal services market conditions. This means we acknowledge that anyone can be vulnerable at various points in their lives, and we recognise that for some people, having multiple risk factors means they experience deeper and more sustained vulnerability.

Before launching the guide, we wanted to ‘road-test’ it first. We were very fortunate to have the help of the Bar Standards Board in doing this. On the 23rd of September, with the support of Harriet Gamper from the Panel Secretariat, I facilitated a session at the BSB where we asked its staff to consider the risk-factor approach to vulnerability, using the guide as a framework for considering some of the issues they deal with as a regulator – in particular, litigants-in person.

Discussion was lively, and we were very pleased to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback on the guide and the session. Based on that experience, we’re confident the guide will be a useful tool for spurring new thinking on vulnerable consumers, at a time when rapid changes to market conditions are causing new challenges in this area.

We’ve incorporated some of the feedback we received into the final version, which we launched today. For further information on the guide, please contact Harriet Gamper at