Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. In Part 2, we consider what it means to be a member of CIVEA.
CIVEA, the civil enforcement association, is the principal trade association representing civil enforcement agencies in England and Wales. We currently represent over 95% of the entire enforcement industry. But what makes civil enforcement of central and local government debt different to debt collection by private companies?
CIVEA’s members work on behalf of local authorities, Transport for London and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). They operate to a strict code of practice that promotes high standards and fair treatment of the public.
Civil enforcement agents are not debt collectors and are only used after councils have been unable to collect the debt themselves and have taken an individual to court. It is complex, highly specialised, and essential work that is needed to recover lost revenue for local and central government – helping to sustain vital public services, while continuing to deliver the referrals, advice and support people need across the country.
There is strong support for the work of enforcement agents. In a recent YouGov survey, commissioned by CIVEA, more than 80% of those polled think 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.
Certificated civil enforcement agents were previously known as bailiffs. An enforcement agent’s certificate is granted by the County Court and must be renewed every two years. To qualify, the enforcement agent must satisfy the court that they have a sufficient knowledge of the law and procedure evidenced by Level 2 or equivalent Training in the Taking Control of Goods Regulations. Certificated enforcement agents enforce non-High Court orders which includes non-payment of council tax, business rates, parking and traffic offences, fines from the Magistrates’ Court’s, non-payment of child support, or a failure to pay commercial rent.
Agents usually wear body-worn cameras to record enforcement visits on film. Video footage is constantly reviewed to monitor agents’ conduct and performance. Agents’ vehicles are often tracked by satellite and their phone use can be monitored and call centre calls are recorded. This degree of monitoring means that complaint standards are maintained and complaint levels are very low.
The most recent figures from the Local Government Ombudsman show that, between 1 April 2014 and 31 October 2018, out of over 76,000 complaints only 540 were attributed to enforcement activity. Of those investigated 36 cases were upheld - that is a total of 10m cases resulting in 36 upheld Ombudsman complaints.
Any complaints made against CIVEA members are usually resolved through our members’ own company complaints processes. However, anyone not satisfied with the outcome can take their case to CIVEA’s independent panel.
The panel of experts known as the Compliance, Adjudication and Review of Enforcement (CARE) Panel, ensures individuals and firms that are part of CIVEA undertake civil enforcement activities professionally and can be held to account. They will consider complaints by reviewing all the documentary evidence and call recordings and video footage, where appropriate. Last year the CARE Panel upheld around half of the complaints it received.
From Monday 24th August, authorities will be able to use enforcement agents again to recover outstanding debts. Enforcement agents returning to work will be collecting debts incurred before coronavirus which have been suspended for five months.
Enforcement agents will not enter homes to take control of goods after visits resume, save for exceptional circumstances and where deemed safe for agents and customers. This policy will be regularly reviewed in line with government and public health guidance. Where agents encounter vulnerable people, additional support will be provided by welfare teams and referral to council support services.
There has been some irresponsible scaremongering recently about what will happen on 24th August. Any resumption of visits has been agreed with the Ministry of Justice and local councils. Fortunately, CIVEA members CIVEA are more responsible than the alarmists and the correct precautions have been taken to protect the public and our staff.
PO Box 745
If you wish to make a complaint against a member of CIVEA, please go to our complaints page and follow the procedure detailed there. Your email will be acknowledged within 5 working days.
CIVEA is unable to discuss complaint matters over the telephone and complaints should be sent in writing. This is to ensure that the details of your complaint are accurately recorded and understood which makes it easier in addressing your complaint thoroughly. Please advise if you have a disability, so that we can make reasonable adjustments.
You can contact us by email, letter or telephone.