Welcome to our blog series, exploring the key topics being discussed in the enforcement industry. In Part 4, we consider the public perception of ‘fairness’, relating to the enforcement industry.
The vast majority of the general public understand the importance of Council Tax and the impact this has on funding local frontline services. An unfortunate reality, however, is that a small percentage of people do not believe it is fair that they must pay the same as everyone else. Latest statistics show that in the UK, twice as many adults back the use of enforcement agents to recover Council Tax debts than oppose civil enforcement.
It is important to remember that Civil Enforcement Agents (EAs) are not Debt Collectors and will only be in contact should a local authority have tried and failed to recover a debt. Most enforcement cases are resolved via telephone or email without the need to visit anyone’s home. EAs are only tasked with recovering money from people who can pay but have chosen not to, as opposed to those who genuinely can't afford to pay. For example, it is common for EAs to be the first to identify a vulnerability case, often when they conduct a visit. When this happens, enforcement action is suspended and they refer that person for additional support through in-house welfare teams and council support services.
Some commentators were opposed to the return of enforcement activity last month, but during the lockdown period most people have continued to pay their repayment plans, suggesting that payments remain fair and affordable. Furthermore, with enforcement providing integral funding to local authorities, who urgently need to support their post-lockdown communities, resuming activity seems not only fair but essential. Early indications from EAs visiting since the lockdown restrictions were lifted are that people are surprisingly appreciative of the extra precautions EA are taking and welcome the opportunity to pay down their debts or set up repayment plans. EAs are reporting positive responses to the protective equipment and social distancing. Incredibly, there have been many reports of people inviting agents into their homes, which they have declined.
A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by CIVEA suggests that the public still sees enforcement as fair. More than two-thirds of people surveyed believe some taxpayers will use the current health crisis to avoid paying their council tax, even though they can meet the payments. It is clear the public does not think this is fair and back the use of enforcement agents to recover debt in these scenarios. 56% of those surveyed said they believe councils should use bailiffs to collect money from people who can but won't pay. Only 28% said they were against this, with the rest remaining unsure.
CIVEA has implemented its Post-Lockdown Support Plan to ensure current enforcement activity is both fair and safe. EAs have begun collecting debts incurred before the coronavirus pandemic, with the vast majority enforcing overdue traffic offences, council tax and other penalties that have been outstanding for many months. All visits currently taking place have been agreed with the Ministry of Justice and local councils.
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