Protecting Enforcement Agents from aggressive behaviour

Protecting Enforcement Agents from aggressive behaviour.

Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. Today we consider violence towards Enforcement Agents and why they are entitled to the same rights as anyone else.

Safety in enforcement is paramount for our members and everyone is entitled to work in safe conditions. Enforcement Agents (EAs), or bailiffs as they were previously known, have official responsibilities and deserve the same level of respect as any other person living and working in the UK.

Enforcement Agents carry out essential duties in challenging circumstances, which means sometimes facing emotionally charged situations and verbal threats. They are highly trained to protect themselves and the public in these scenarios, acting with professionalism to diffuse a volatile situation. But instances of physical violence towards EAs are not uncommon.

CIVEA members will always prosecute in cases of violence against their staff. As the primary trade association for civil enforcement agencies, representing more than 95% of the industry, we fully support this robust response. Enforcement firms equip all agents with body-worn video cameras. This is helpful to ascertain the truth behind reports of misconduct in the case of complaints, but it is also a way to protect agents and the public by recording enforcement visits. If someone is violent towards an EA, it will be recorded and used as evidence in court.

In recent years the following incidents have led to criminal charges:

  • An EA attacked with an axe (debtor convicted of assault and threatening behaviour).
  • An EA locked in a shop and threatened with murder (charge payer received a 6- months suspended sentence).
  • Agent threatened with a loaded shotgun (Armed Police response and 6-hour stand-off resulting in a 6-month suspended sentence).
  • EA suffered a concussion after the debtor suddenly assaulted him, took his tablet and folder and pulled off body camera (Police attended and arrested debtor for assault).
  • An EA required stitches in the arm after a debtor pushed him down concrete steps (debtor successfully prosecuted).
  • EA attacked with a machete while clamping the debtor’s vehicle (Police attended and arrested the debtor).

By contrast, the Local Government and Social Care assessors have not upheld a single complaint of aggressive behaviour by EAs during this period.

Regrettably, the weaponising of the coronavirus has also been reported, with some debtors deliberately breaking social distancing or spitting at EAs saying that have the virus. This is not tolerated and will be reported to the police as assault. CIVEA understands that mental health factors and vulnerability can sometimes influence how members of the public behave. However, all CIVEA members have dedicated welfare teams to deal with the most vulnerable cases and field agents are trained to identify and refer vulnerable people to support services.

In the current circumstances, every agent visiting residential premises (from the doorstep) follows government guidelines and is well versed in coronavirus health and safety measures, such as conducting contactless visits, exercising social distancing and using PPE. Enforcement agents have also recently received refresher training on working safely and identifying vulnerability. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has shown continued confidence in the COVID-19 support plan. EAs still not allowed to enter premises, but the coronavirus pandemic is no excuse for anyone to act more aggressively or violently towards agents on their doorstep.

It is important to always remember that enforcement is the final stage of an extensive process of debt collection, in which the court has issued a warrant or order instructing an enforcement agent to take control of goods in lieu of payment. In over 50 percent of cases, debts are recovered in instalments by affordable repayment plans. Whether someone agrees with the role that EAs play in the public debt collections process or not, there is never justification for violence towards agents executing their civil duties. A recent YouGov survey indicates over 80% of adults accept and understand the role of EAs, believing the current situation where millions are unpaid every year would remain the same or get worse if councils were to suddenly stop using bailiffs to collect council tax.

An EA will only visit someone after all other attempts at communication have failed. They are tasked with finding a resolution and want to help debts get cleared, so working with them is always the best way to resolve a debt problem. Violence and aggression is not an acceptable response and will only make a difficult situation even worse.

For more information on rights and responsibilities related to enforcement, please see our FAQ section.

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