Measuring control and standards in enforcement.

Measuring control and standards in enforcement.

As the principal trade association, representing over 95% of the entire enforcement industry in England and Wales, CIVEA is tasked with driving improvements and ensuring members maintain the highest standards. Through ongoing training and continuous development, CIVEA members are committed to best-practice and fair treatment for all.

Alongside the highly prescriptive regulation implemented in 2014, the CIVEA code of practice is the primary tool for monitoring conduct to ensure that enforcement firms, and those they partner with, remain responsible and accountable for how they operate. The compliance framework set out by the code of practice is supported through regular reviews and audits. CIVEA members are audited by an independent process undertaken by the Compliance, Adjudication and Review of Enforcement (CARE) Panel. The CARE Panel members act independently to receive compliance reports from the auditor and resolve any matters arising. However, CIVEA recognised that beyond these measures introduced in 2019, there was a need to continue to push for higher standards. We believe that more can be done to raise standards, improve accountability, adjudicate complaints and recognise vulnerability.

Discussions internally about areas for improvement led to plans that became the proposed Enforcement Conduct Authority (ECA). The ECA will form the vehicle for further change, including new rules of conduct under revised National Standards, guidance on vulnerability based on best practice in other sectors and fair and affordable repayment plans. The ECA will also work with local authorities to align contractual requirements in Service Level Agreements (SLA) to the revised standards.

This is not to say that, without regulation, the current situation allows for poor standards. Enforcement firms primarily contract with central and local government clients, who in turn must comply with strict procurement protocols. This means that only the best performing firms can qualify for public sector contracts. SLAs and contractual requirements act as an enforcer of standards. While requirements may vary across local authorities, firms are always assessed on performance targets that extend beyond collection levels to welfare support for vulnerable people and social value to the wider community, which must align with the authorities’ policies. Social value is an important feature of public sector procurement, and this has become even more significant in a post-pandemic society. These can include commitments to enhance the economic, environmental or social aspects of a community.

Therefore, the enforcement sector is effectively regulated by contractual commitments. In reality, an enforcement service that wishes to secure and then maintain an ongoing public sector contract of this nature must consistently perform to high standards and demonstrate added value to the authority; proving that they can meet demanding targets of debt recovery at no cost to the public purse while acting professionally and with integrity on behalf of council clients. Firms that fail to achieve the standards or attract complaints from the public are likely to lose business in the future.

The Enforcement Conduct Authority will build on this self-regulatory commercial framework with interventions that aim to bring a consistent approach across local authorities in England and Wales. Councils will be encouraged to require firms to submit to supervision by the ECA as a condition of their contracts.

The ECA will administer an independent complaints process for complaints that have been unresolved and escalated for adjudication. Conversations have been started with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to consider how this can be streamlined with the ombudsman’s statutory responsibility for adjudicating on complaints to local authorities. Approval of the planned framework, the appointment of key personnel and engagement with the Government are the next steps. News on these developments will be communicated by CIVEA, and other members of the Enforcement Oversight Working Group, as they develop.

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