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UK watchdog steps up scrutiny of how banks treat COVID-stressed consumers

Wed, 29th Jul 2020 13:58

By Huw Jones

LONDON, July 29 (Reuters) - Financial firms will face closer
scrutiny of how they deal with an expected rise in vulnerable
customers as COVID-19 relief measures are phased out after
October, Britain's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on
Wednesday.

The FCA published draft guidance setting out how firms
should treat customers facing financial, health or other
difficulties that make it harder for them to keep up with
repayments.

The number of potentially vulnerable consumers has already
risen by 1.5 million since the pandemic started, to total 25.5
million, or about half of UK adults, the FCA says.

Numbers are likely to rise further as mortgage and credit
card payment holidays granted by banks come to an end in the
autumn, along with furlough schemes that have kept people off
the dole queue for now.

Nisha Arora, the FCA's director of retail, said the
guidance, due to formally come into effect by early 2021,
fleshes out existing principles that require firms to treat
their customers fairly.

Work on the guidance was already underway but has been made
more urgent by the pandemic. The proposals are open to industry
consultation through September.

"A lot of this is about saying to firms to pre-empt problems
and we will be holding firms to account," Arora told Reuters.

"Firms should be doing this right now, this gives them
greater clarity on our expectations. I don't think firms should
be waiting on this one."

Firms should not wait to be contacted if they spot problems
emerging such as missed payments and should respond flexibly and
not constantly be using automated responses, she said.

"This draft guidance will provide a practical framework to
help identify vulnerable customers and ensure they receive the
best possible support," said Eric Leenders, managing director of
personal finance at UK Finance, Britain's banking industry body.
(Reporting by Huw Jones
Editing by David Holmes)

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