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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Customer contact and data security: telephone contact: sensitive call handling: elderly or infirm

We need to adopt the correct approach using our PDRS training and treat every customer with empathy and tact. Do not make any prejudgements.

Follow these guidelines for all customers:

  • speak clearly and directly into the mouthpiece or microphone
  • concentrate on the content, not the voice
  • always be ready to repeat, or re-phrase
  • give the person time to explain themselves fully - don’t interrupt
  • if you can’t understand, ask the person to repeat it
  • never pretend you’ve understood when you haven’t
  • if the person has a speech impediment / speaks slowly, don’t finish their words or guess the end of a sentence
  • if the person has a speech problem, do not assume you know why
  • where appropriate, ask closed questions (so the customer only has to say yes or no)

and finally, don’t be daunted by the rights and wrongs; if in doubt, rely on your own common sense and understanding. Whatever the situation, if you are not sure what to do, have confidence - and ask your customer how you can help.

Also see (where appropriate):

  • DMBM510430 - Customer contact and data security: Sensitive cases
  • DMBM510470 - Customer contact and data security: Sensitive cases: Vulnerable Customers: Mental health and debt
  • DMBM513165 - Customer contact and data security: legislation and policy: Equality Act 2010
  • DMBM585180 - Pre-enforcement: consider the defaulter: elderly or infirm customers


Some customers may prefer to handle their dealings in these circumstances with the department through an agent, representative or third party (including a voluntary organisation), and our normal guidance regarding authority and security should still be followed - see DMBM511600 about contact with third parties.

Where a customer is unable to directly deal with their own affairs they may decide to provide a third party with authority to act on their behalf. A power of attorney is a legal document whereby a person (the ‘donor’) gives another person (the ‘attorney’ or ‘donee’) this authority - see IDG30430 Disclosure when there is power of attorney.