The housing sector works with and supports many people – for example, individuals with financial challenges, mental health problems, at risk of financial abuse, and victims of fraud. All of whom should be treated with a duty of care.
The Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a central, independent database of vulnerable people, which helps organisations to keep their residents safe.
At the VRS, we’re working with various housing providers to encourage them to flag if they think a resident is vulnerable and ensure that they are treated fairly. We believe that if an organisation knows about a person’s circumstances, they can make sure any communication or action is appropriate and supportive.
Being registered with the VRS helps protect people, and it’s free to share data with us.
A recent survey of the VRS database has shown that housing tenure plays a role in vulnerability - and people in social housing can often be more vulnerable.
Housing associations can tailor their support more appropriately if they know about their residents’ circumstances. The VRS is a way of sharing information, so that lenders and creditors can treat them with the care they need. For example, anyone registered with the VRS can opt to simply make organisations aware of their circumstances or they can choose to be declined financial or related services for a period of time – perhaps because they feel that they are not in the position to make a decision which is in their best interests at the time.
Another example is around an account being sent to collections when someone has fallen behind with payments. If a resident is registered with the VRS, the company can take them out of the usual automated processes – which often involves automated calls, text messages and home visits – to treat that person with more care and sensitivity.
Residents can register themselves or housing associations can register residents on their behalf to notify us if an individual’s circumstances have changed due to mental health issues or a cognitive disorder, a physical disability, where an event such as a bereavement or relationship breakdown has occurred, where there is serious financial hardship, accessibility limitations or where the pandemic has had an impact.
Any information shared with us will be shown on the register for three months, after which residents or housing associations can ask us to remove them if they feel their circumstances have improved. Once a resident’s information has been removed, no organisation is able to see that the resident was registered with us. The sole purpose of the VRS is to provide a snapshot of an individual’s circumstances at a given point in time – a person’s prior history on the VRS is nobody’s business but their own.
Our leadership team have a mix of expertise in regulatory, compliance, and consumer affairs, and have all worked with people experiencing vulnerable circumstances. We’re trying to broaden our coverage within the utilities, banking and mobile phone sectors – and especially within the housing sector as they can work with us to register their residents. We see it as essential to collaborate with as many organisations as possible where there is a focus on addressing vulnerability.
Our data is already being used more widely than just financial services organisations. For example, we’re working with a number of utilities companies to help them identify their customers who may qualify for reduced rate tariffs.