How do CIVEA members protect the vulnerable?

Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. In Part 5, we discuss the measure in place that ensure vulnerability cases are handled correctly, safely and appropriately.

CIVEA exists to ensure strict safeguards are implemented within the enforcement industry. We are tasked with making sure the vulnerable are provided with the right protection and that payment comes from those who wilfully refuse to pay, rather than those who want to pay but cannot afford to.

Despite every effort to contact people who may be vulnerable in advance, it is common for enforcement agents (EAs) to be the first to identify those in need when they visit their homes. If agents encounter vulnerable people, enforcement action is suspended and they will refer that person for additional support to welfare teams and council support services. This is especially important at present due to the coronavirus pandemic and any visit (currently restricted to the doorstep) where a debtor indicates they are feeling unwell or self-isolating, is immediately ended.

CIVEA has implemented its Post-Lockdown Support Plan to ensure enforcement activity taking place during the current health crisis is safe and responsible when engaging with vulnerable members of society. Reconnection letters were sent to assist with identifying vulnerable people before visits resumed in August. Mandatory CIVEA-approved training has been delivered to every CIVEA member, covering the effective use of PPE, social distancing and protecting the public.

Our members understand that sensitivity towards debtors is more important than ever as many more people will be facing vulnerable circumstances and uncertain financial situations. However, many firms are reporting that since resuming activity, EAs are discovering people have saved money during lockdown and are now keen to resolve or increase payments on their outstanding debts.

It is undeniable however that a small minority will see COVID-19 as an opportunity to avoid paying debts that they can afford to resolve. A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by CIVEA suggests the public agree, with more than two-thirds of people surveyed stating they felt some taxpayers will use the crisis to avoid paying council tax, even though they can meet the payments. CIVEA members are trained to expertly assess vulnerability cases and establish when a debtor is genuinely in need of support.

Enforcement remains essential for local authorities, providing local communities with funding for essential services, many of which help to improve the lives of the most vulnerable. In September 2019, CIVEA introduced a new strengthened Code, which exceeds the statutory requirements and the National Standards. A compliance framework ensures that firms comply with our objectives. Enforcement Agents are tasked with recovering money from people who can pay but have chosen not to, as opposed to those who genuinely can't afford to.

If you are unsure of anything related to the enforcement process, please view the two animations on the CIVEA website which helpfully outline the standard enforcement process and recent updates made related to COVID-19, ‘COVID-19 Safe Working Practices’ and ‘CIVEA Guide To Enforcement’.

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