There has been a lot of debate in the press and Parliament recently on the lack of professionalism from Enforcement Agents (Bailiffs). The whole industry has been unfairly labelled as being riddled with “thugs and bullies”.
‘Taking Control’ is a group of Companies that includes the CAB, Step Change and 9 other organisations. The group is calling for the formation of an independent body that will enforce certain standards in the bailiff industry.
However, whilst we understand that there are, of course, a few “rotten apples” in the industry (as with any industry), we do not agree with the sweeping generalisation these Charities have made. The methods used to come to this conclusion are not fair. The statistics are not robust and are highly exaggerated.
It has been reported that Citizens Advice was only able to gather responses from 277 clients ( whom have received visits from EAs in the past two years ). That is 277 people out of 2.2 million people that were dealt with by EAs. Then very clever “mathematical gymnastics” were used to draw an unrealistic result, without the statistical teeth to back it up. They use these “figures” to claim that the findings suggest the government reforms, introduced in 2014 to protect people from unfair practices, are not working.
Russell Hamblin-Boone is Chief Executive of the Civil Enforcement Association. He says, “It is of great concern that Citizens Advice fails to make a distinction between laws that are broken and laws that people simply don’t like. For example, in the report it is assumed that a threat to force entry to a property or to remove goods required for work purposes is breaking the regulations. That is simply incorrect and depends on the circumstances. It is shocking that agents are being accused of acting illegally based on such flimsy evidence”.
Furthermore, alongside the rather dubious way they have calculated these statistics, they have sweeping judgements on the industry in general. They fail to make an accurate judgement. They refuse to consider that these statistics may also include a proportion of people out there who are “playing the system”. People “playing the system” will use any loophole, lie or excuse they can to muddy the waters and wriggle out of paying their debts. This does not detract of course from the genuine cases out there, just as the odd “rogue bailiff” should not detract from the many professional and compliant EAs out there.
There has been a massive increase in these charities claiming vulnerability on behalf of their Clients. However, sadly it seems that they are not fully understanding the rules, as set out by the TCE 2007 Act and the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013. As a result, they are making unfounded allegations against the EAs, either due to lack of knowledge, misinterpretation of the regulations, or both.
For example, these charities would argue that every person with mental health issues should be deemed as vulnerable. There are many people with genuine mental health issues out there functioning adequately day to day and holding down well paid, full time jobs. Does this mean they should not have to pay their bills just because of a “label”?
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
More and more we are seeing scandalous and ridiculous claims being made against Enforcement Agents. Sadly, when a Debtor walks into the CAB with a tale of woe, they are only too eager to believe every word they say, without considering whether it is truthful or not. Thankfully most EAs now wear Body Worn Cameras, which capture everything that is said and performed at a call. This film acts as clear evidence against the malicious and untruthful claims we are facing more and more often. It would be interesting to know from the disapproving percentage of the 277 people whom responded to the CAB exactly how many complaints were upheld?
The Strict and Rigid Process
What should be remembered throughout all of this is that there is a rigorous Court process that a person must go through to become a Certificated Enforcement Agent. This involves examinations and background checks. It has to be proved that adequate training has been received. The regulations we currently act under are tight and prescriptive, and it is very clear which powers we have and what we can and cannot do. At Revenue Services we ensure that all our Enforcement Agents adhere to these regulations, as do the majority of Companies out there.
Many Debtors “put their head in the sand”. It is not until an Enforcement Agent is instructed and visits them at their property, that any possible vulnerability issues come to light. Therefore, in a lot of cases, the Enforcement Agent is key in ensuring their account is dealt with correctly.
A visit by an enforcement agent is always the last resort. In order to receive a visit, you must have ignored final demands, emails, phone calls and texts. Agents are highly trained and must follow a process set out in detailed regulations to ensure that they collect unpaid council tax and court fines fairly. Of course, agents need to sometimes be assertive when chasing down people who refuse to pay their debts, but their training allows for them to assess the circumstances fully and to decide on an arrangement in accordance with those circumstances.
Rundle and Co for example, with whom we have a successful and long-term working partnership, is a highly reputable Enforcement Agent Company. They have a dedicated Welfare Team, setup to deal with proven cases of vulnerability. Let us not forget though that somebody is not automatically vulnerable just because they fall into a certain category. They should only be considered as vulnerable if their circumstances affect their means and ability to pay the debt.
The Moral of the Story
Don’t believe everything you read or hear, there are always two sides to every story and someone has to be the bad guy, whether it’s justified or not!