Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. In Part 3, we consider how Enforcement Agents that have returned to work are keeping themselves and the public safe.
Since the end of last month, local authorities have once again been able to use Enforcement Agents (EAs) to recover outstanding debts. In the lead up to EAs resuming their jobs, there has been some unfortunate and irresponsible scaremongering due to misconceptions. Fortunately, CIVEA members are more responsible than the alarmists and the correct precautions have been taken to protect the public and staff.
Any visits currently taking place have been agreed with the Ministry of Justice and local councils. EAs that have returned to work now have begun collecting debts incurred before the coronavirus pandemic, with the vast majority enforcing fines, traffic offences and other penalties that have been outstanding for many months.
CIVEA has taken important steps to ensure EAs have resumed their jobs without any additional risks. A comprehensive and mandatory CIVEA-approved training programme has been delivered, covering the effective use of PPE, social distancing and protecting the public. In the past 10 weeks almost 1700 enforcement agents have been trained to return to work with the new safety procedures. We have uploaded two animations to the CIVEA website to outline what this training has entailed and an explanation of the standard enforcement process. These videos, ‘COVID-19 Safe Working Practices’ and ‘CIVEA Guide To Enforcement’ remain available to view should anyone wish to know more.
The Government released updated guidelines on enforcement activity three days prior to visits resuming. CIVEA has ensured this has been communicated to all members and implemented. Enforcement agents will not enter homes to take control of goods, save for exceptional circumstances and no enforcement activity is taking place in regions where there are localised restrictions. All policies continue to be regularly reviewed in line with the latest public health guidance.
As part of a post-lockdown support plan, a standardised reconnection letter, devised by CIVEA has been sent to all those who have outstanding debt to local authorities. This asked for anyone to identify any additional needs of people affected by COVID-19. Despite every effort to make contact with people who may be vulnerable, it is common for enforcement agents to be the first to identify those in need when they visit their homes. When agents encounter vulnerable people, enforcement action is suspended and they refer the person for additional support through in-house welfare teams and council support services. During the lock down period most people have continued to pay their repayment plans , suggesting that payments remain both fair and affordable.
A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by CIVEA, showed more than 80% of those polled felt that council tax and fines would go unpaid if local councils could not use bailiffs to collect money from people who can pay but won’t. Out of 247 councils in England and Wales who responded to us, 45% have already approved enforcement visits for council tax and 60% have already approved enforcement visits for traffic offences (Parking Charge Notices).
These figures are expected to increase even more in the coming weeks, as some councilllors have not yet considered the proposal, some revenue teams remain furloughed whilst offices are adapted for a safe return and others are monitoring those who have already resumed activity. Enforcement remains essential for local authorities, providing local communities with funding for essential frontline services, especially as communities recover from the impact of the pandemic.
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