Responding to Citizens Advice’s latest attack on the enforcement industry, Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, said: “This is a very narrow campaign that attempts to place the problem of unmanageable household debt at the door of the enforcement industry. While it makes for some appealing headlines, anyone who understands our judicial process will appreciate that this is a gross simplification. A visit by an enforcement agent is always the council’s last resort.
There are prescriptive regulations that set out in detail the powers and procedures for collecting money owed to local authorities. Local authorities issue court orders and warrants instructing enforcement agents to collect unpaid debts to pay for social care, police, child support services, refuse collection. But Citizens Advice has offered no suggestions on how these local authorities would be supervised under a new regulator.
Citizens Advice researchers are a law unto themselves when it comes to research. They continue to use poor research, self-selecting surveys and anecdotes in a futile attempt to deflect from a lack of genuine evidence. Even a parliamentary committee has been unable to get a detailed explanation of where the figures come from. Do we really believe that 6 times more people have an opinion on bailiff regulation than watch X Factor?
The reality is that enforcement firms have excellent relations with the majority of their local Citizens Advice bureaux and work collaboratively to help people with problem debt. Like the adviser that had a client who had been visited by an enforcement agent for a magistrate court fine. The person was identified as being financially vulnerable, and his wife was being treated for cancer. Working together the agent and adviser arranged for the debt to be referred back to the court as unenforceable. The adviser reported that the agent was really helpful in helping to identify other fines and their courts of origin.
Enforcing public debt is a complex judicial process and agents act within the law. So we cannot base decisions about new regulations on the views of a handful of debt advisers who consistently demonstrate a worrying lack of knowledge of the existing regulations.
The Ministry of Justice is gathering robust evidence to identify any systemic problems in the enforcement process. Debt advice groups could make better use of their time by supporting the work of the industry to make sure that local services continue to get the funds they desperately need. “