The reality of enforcement operations and outcomes

The reality of enforcement operations and outcomes

Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. Today, we consider historic misconceptions around the enforcement process and the most common resolutions this activity achieves.

CIVEA currently represents over 95% of the entire enforcement industry and all members operate to a strict code of practice that promotes high standards and fair treatment of the public. In total CIVEA members recover almost half a billion pounds in unpaid taxes and fines each year at no cost to the public bodies themselves.

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. Civil enforcement agents are not debt collectors and are only used after councils have been unable to collect the debt themselves.

When an enforcement company receives an instruction from its client, statutory fees and charges will be applied to the case. The fee structure is designed to encourage people to make contact at an early stage. Around half of the debt cases passed to enforcement agents are settled by payment arrangements, but this is discretionary not an entitlement. The later enforcement stages, including visits, are expensive for enforcement firms who are required to employ agents, hire vehicles and operate sophisticated tracking and body-worn video cameras. The higher fees are applied at the later stages to reflect this, which increases the total amount of debt owed. 66% of adults believe a person who has not paid their council tax should pay for the costs associated with collecting the money.

The reality is that much of the work undertaken by enforcement firms takes place behind the scenes and, therefore, gets misunderstood. This can lead to misinformed complaints about the charges, in which individuals assume that they have been charged £75 by firms simply to send out a Notice of Enforcement. The compliance process is a rigorous attempt to verify details and make contact to arrange payment. It can involve tracing, credit checking, DVLA licensing checks, emails, texts, calls and letters. Around 40% of overdue Council Tax debt is collected at the compliance stage.

For many, the image of enforcement agents (previously bailiffs) comes from sensationalised portrayals on news reports and TV programmes, where it appears that the objective of enforcement is to seize and sell their prized possessions. In reality, a very small number of cases go to auction. Only 2.5% of fees and debt from Council Tax cases that are paid in full are collected at the sale stage. Less than 1% of those cases result in goods being sold at auction. When this does happen, it is predominantly vehicles, which are the most common high-value possessions.

People are often advised that if an agent is coming to your home, you don't have to let them in. This is correct but at the same time, you cannot obstruct an agent or prevent him or her from executing a court order. An agent acting on a Magistrates’ Court warrant has additional powers of entry, including using a locksmith. Complaints are often made that agents threatened to forcefully gain access to a property when taking control under a magistrate’s warrant. This is not a threat but a statement of the law. 64% of adults believe bailiffs should be used to collect unpaid fines imposed by a court

The enforcement visit procedure has been temporarily revised in response to the risks from COVID-19. But it remains an important deterrent to non-payment of taxes and fines. 56% of adults believe councils should use bailiffs to try and collect unpaid council tax from people who can but won't pay.

CIVEA members have committed to a new procedure that means enforcement agents exercise social distancing and go above and beyond current coronavirus health and safety precautions. Over 1700 agents have been comprehensively trained on PPE during the summer. CIVEA members have upheld a voluntary decision not to enter residential premises since September, and there is no change to recommended procedures during the current winter lockdown.

We continue to see people pay off debts and arrange higher repayment rates, having made savings during the first lockdown period. CIVEA remains fully committed to all government and public health guidelines.

For more on the enforcement process please see our new ‘CIVEA Guide To Enforcement’animation or, view our latest ‘COVID-19 Safe Working Practices’ video.

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