How the enforcement industry embraces change

Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. In Part 6, Caroline Wells, of the Compliance, Adjudication and Review of Enforcement Panel, discusses how enforcement firms continue to raise standards and improve processes.

It is easier to follow than it is to lead. The words I remember my driving instructor telling me during one particular driving lesson. We were on a single-track windy road, and I was very conscious of the cars backing up behind me as I made my way through the twists and turns. He told me not to worry and explained how the lead car has a much harder job to do as it ‘scouts out’ the best route. It’s easier for the cars behind, he said. They just follow the lead.

Perhaps he was just trying to make me feel better about the mile of traffic building up behind us, but his words have stayed with me, and I’ve used them many times since then in my working life.

Leading isn’t easy (anyone who has ever done it will know that). When you are out in front it means you are there for everyone to see, and sometimes you can become a bit of an easy target for others - who can be a bit too quick to critique and comment for no other reason than it sounding good.

Let’s be honest, this sector, whether deserved or not, has a reputation. In history and stories of old, the tax/debt collector has always been ‘the baddie’. That’s a lot of years for the industry to row back from and make up for. Am I saying the enforcement sector is perfect? No, of course not. But it’s no less perfect than any other industry I’ve worked in.

In the last year, vast moves have been made to raise the standards in civil enforcement. I’ve been genuinely impressed by CIVEA’s commitment and hard work to help raise standards in civil enforcement – most clearly seen in the guidance they issued to members when COVID-19 came into our lives.

For many enforcement firms, the idea of increasing standards isn’t anything new. Many have been recovering debts for the financial services industry for years and there’s been a pretty seismic shift already in how CIVEA’s members and agents conduct themselves. However, sending an agent around to someone’s house really should be the action of last resort. And I’m not sure we are quite there yet.

From the complaints we reviewed as the CARE Panel, many of the problems stemmed from what happened before the enforcement firm was instructed. I don’t think I’m too far wide of the mark to suggest that there are still some parts of the public service sector who do not approach the recovery of money with the same degree of forbearance, support and options shown in other sectors. Until such time, I suspect agents will continue to find themselves on the doorsteps of people who didn’t need to be put into that situation.

But there have also been some examples where enforcement firms and their agents haven’t got things right. From those examples, there are three key areas I’d like to see enforcement firms focus on and improve over the next 12 months:

Communicate with Customers:

  • Making sure that all communications are clear, open and the right tone to encourage earlier engagement and reduce the need for an agent visit.

Invest in complaint handling teams:

  • Ensure teams have the right people, with the right skills, knowledge and ability to challenge the status quo.

Support customers who need it most:

  • Equip staff with the skills and knowledge required to identify and respond well to people in a vulnerable situation, finding solutions outside the ‘usual process’.

It’s not always easy being the leader. But when it comes to showing that this industry works (and is seen to work) in a way that is human, open and fair, this is as good an opportunity as ever for enforcement firms to pave the way.

Caroline Wells is a vulnerable customer champion and complaints adjudication expert. She is part of the Compliance, Adjudication and Review of Enforcement Panel (CARE), who independently assess civil enforcement activities to ensure they are conducted professionally, efficiently, effectively and lawfully.

Want to know more? Please see our recent posts on handling vulnerability, the public perception of fairness and the safety measures devised for the return of enforcement activity.

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