It won’t come as any surprise to you when I tell you that the pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people contacting Resolver seeking help.
Many of the complaints we’re seeing reflect the stories in the news. For example, as airlines and travel firms began cancelling holidays, millions of people panicked and tried to get refunds – and turned to Resolver when they got confusing messages about their rights from the businesses. Similarly, complaints about package delivery and online shopping have rocketed in the last few weeks, with many retailers happy to sell goods, but not allocating vital resources to returns and customer relations.
But of all the sectors that Resolver can help with, the most surprising fact is that complaints about money matters haven’t seen a significant rise too. Yet.
At present, our data clearly shows that the nation is focused on the obvious industries where refunds for services are cancelled or not delivered. However, the longer this goes on the more we are seeing people looking for refunds or cancellations to save a bit of cash. We’re seeing people contacting firms for everything from dating apps to TV and film streaming sites to cut back or reclaim cash.
But why not financial services? These are challenging times for people around the UK. Furloughing, Universal Credit, job insecurity and concerns over rent, mortgages and bills have affected people in unprecedented numbers. Many commentators assumed that complaints about finance and money matters would explode in the way that travel and shopping complaints have. And though we have seen consistent levels of complaints about finance, we haven’t seen a sustained increase yet.
Resolver’s data does show evidence of some short term spikes in complaints in money and finance. For example, we saw a big increase in complaints from mid-January to early February this year. This is regular pattern and it’s largely because of New Year’s resolutions and good intentions. That wait for the January pay-packet is a long one, but when the money hits the account, people decide to tackle their bills, finances and other debts – and make complaints about businesses that have made errors or aren’t helping too.
Given that, you might expect people to take the opportunity presented by lockdown to do the same. So it might seem surprising that complaint volumes remain relatively static – especially as this is the time of year when I, and other consumer rights campaigners, are usually writing ‘Spring clean your finances’ articles!
What actually seems to be happening is a bit more complex. I don’t think people are burying their heads in the sand and avoiding budgeting. But the psychological impact on people of the lockdown and on job and future security has meant that for millions of us, the focus has been on ‘just getting through’ the first few months of the pandemic. Add to that concern about family and family members, and nagging doubts about the post-lockdown world, it’s perhaps inevitable that dealing with bills and debts hasn’t been a priority.
Finally, people don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. I didn’t see people making complaints about payday loans for years and years, despite some frankly shocking practices in the industry. This pattern was seen everywhere from advice agencies to the Financial Ombudsman. It turns out that even high cost, aggressive lenders are better than no lenders to many people struggling to pay the bills. If the lenders go, the people go under. And this is one of the main driving factors in complaints about financial difficulties.
Furloughing has given people some breathing space, but even though the Chancellor has extended the scheme in to October, for many people it will be coming to an end sooner as they return to work or as more clarity about their jobs is provided.
So that tidal wave of complaints about money matters, financial difficulties and debt will undoubtedly happen. It’s just been moved a little further down the line.
This matters for businesses in all sectors. It’s not a time to get complacent, because in the coming months, customer service teams will be busier than they’ve ever been as people address their incomings and outgoings and realise, they might not be able to make ends meet. Planning for this, providing training (and support) for employees and most importantly, having the resources to deal with this demand will be vital.
So, though people are currently focused on refunds, soon, they’ll seek help with debts, financial difficulties and bills. We all have to be ready to provide that help and support when the time comes.
Alex Neill is the CEO of Resolver and has been a passionate campaigner for consumer rights for over a decade. You can read more of Alex’s blogs and get help, tips and support on a range of subjects on the Resolver news site here: http://news.resolver.co.uk/