Standard for responding to vulnerability

The new ISO Standard ISO 22458 Consumer vulnerability – Requirements and guidelines for the design and delivery of inclusive service was developed by the international committee ISO/PC 311 Vulnerable consumers.

This was written by Alistair Tegart, Former Engagement Manager at
Standards Australia and published by SOCAP.

Standards Australia’s committee CS-311 Vulnerable consumers worked on Australian input to the international standard. The committee is comprised of representatives from a wide range of service providers including banking, telecommunications, energy, and consumer representative organisations. 

The standard takes a broad view of consumer vulnerability, recognising that people’s circumstances are all different, and that changes can render anybody vulnerable in a particular circumstance at a particular time, and may vary from short to long term. The impact of that vulnerability can be exacerbated by the actions or inactions of organisations and can potentially lead to harm. In order to be applicable to the widest number of industries it is descriptive, instead of prescriptive.

The standard provides guidance for organisations to identify and manage vulnerability in the design and delivery of services and will provide a range of benefits in dealing with all customers, including broadening the customer base, improved satisfaction and trust, support for staff in handling situations and achieving compliance with legal obligations related to fairness and equality.  

The focus of the standard was extended during the course of development to cover aspects of identifying and responding to consumers in vulnerable situations to reflect the intention of the document that organisations should be ‘doing’ in the management of customer vulnerability, not just ‘identifying’. 

The standard outlines key principles and strategies that organisations should commit to in order to support vulnerable consumers, including accountability, empathy, empowerment, fairness, flexibility, inclusivity, innovation, privacy and transparency. These principles are designed to be embedded throughout an organisation’s systems and processes with a core focus on positive outcomes for consumers. It emphasizes inclusive design by understanding and planning for vulnerability at all stages of service delivery through use of research, insights and data.  ISO 22458 also stresses that identification and management of vulnerability, risks of harm and individual needs will vary widely and will need to be taken into account in fair, flexible and tailored responses. The use of feedback and data to regularly review service provision and consumer outcomes results in learning from experience and continual improvements.

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