CIVEA and its members work closely with charities and debt advice providers. As well as supporting organisations such as StepChange, Money Advice Trust and Christians Against Poverty through the national FairShare scheme, our members fund local charities and Citizens Advice bureaux. Our members provide funding for debt advisers to be based with local authorities. Others fund a bursary scheme for debt relief orders. Another supports a training programme for debt advisers.
If you are struggling to pay your debts, there is help is available from the free debt advice providers listed below.
Gov.uk (go to www.gov.uk)
Citizens Advice (go to www.adviceguide.org.uk or phone 0345 404 0506/0344 411 1444 for England or 0344 477 2020 for Wales)
AdviceUK (go to www.adviceuk.org.uk/find-a-member)
Advice Service (go to www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk or phone 0800 138 7777)
StepChange Debt Charity (go to www.stepchange.org or phone 0800 138 1111)
Money Helper (go to https://www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en) or phone 0300 500 5000
National Debtline (go to www.nationaldebtline.org or phone 0808 808 4000)
Christians Against Poverty (go www.capuk.org or phone 01274 760720)
Vulnerability and how to respond to vulnerable people are embedded in every part of the enforcement business, from contact centre operators to enforcement agents in the field. The debt advice sector has worked closely with CIVEA members to provide training on how to identify and support vulnerable people. All CIVEA members have either a welfare team or a dedicated individual responsible for managing cases where individuals are identified as potentially vulnerable. These specialists are trained in the use of management tools such as TEXAS and IDEA and are empowered to make decisions about additional support needs.
Most people in financial difficulties do not address their situation until it becomes unmanageable and, for many reasons, refuse to engage with the courts and local authorities despite being given numerous opportunities to do so. Enforcement agents, who are well trained and are skilled at identifying vulnerability, provide an invaluable service to local authorities, not just in terms of collection. They are often the first people able to engage with vulnerable people and obtain relevant information to feed back to the local authority.
Enforcement firms use in depth analytics early in the Compliance Stage to decide on appropriate action and combine this with first-hand observations by agents in the field. This allows the agent to have a complete picture from letter to visit. This is unique in debt collection and enables a debt management approach that supports an individual through the process. Given the distinct nature of public debt collection, such as the restriction on the time available to recover outstanding debt, this is an essential element of the debt management process.
It is in no-one's interest to add to the challenges of those who are genuinely vulnerable. By their nature, enforcement visits can be stressful. Enforcement agents are engaging with people at their homes and they face the possibility of enforcement action and the removal of goods. We acknowledge that the conduct of enforcement agents in this situation has the potential to put an individual in a vulnerable position.
Enforcement agents are trained to identify vulnerable circumstances and make a judgment whether those circumstances prevent the individual making an informed and competent decision. For example, the Taking Control of Goods Regulations protect an individual from entering into a Controlled Goods Agreement where they appear not to understand the implications. Part 14 (2) states:
“The enforcement agent may not enter into a controlled goods agreement with the debtor or another person who it appears (or ought to appear) to the enforcement agent does not understand the effect of, and would therefore not be capable of entering into such an agreement.”
CIVEA members provide additional assurance to third parties who may choose to pay another person’s debt. Part 1b (v) of the CIVEA code of practice for enforcement states:
“A family member or other third party should not be pressured into paying on behalf of a debtor, although a voluntary payment can be accepted where this avoid goods being seized or removed.”
In any circumstances an enforcement agent is entitled to ask for evidence of vulnerability. This may be a doctor’s note explaining any illness or disability; a letter from the benefits office or social services; a council tax bill showing the adult occupants of a home. Clearly, there may be situations where this is not appropriate. Ultimately, it is at the discretion of the local authority or courts whether an agent should be instructed to continue with an enforcement action.
To assist authorities in identifying vulnerability, CIVEA members have designed bespoke training for frontline staff on vulnerability in relation to enforcement activity.
Debt Collection Agency (DCA) processes have been held up as the model of regulatory oversight, and civil enforcement uses many of the same processes. Partnering with debt charities, vulnerability training and technology-enhanced repayment processes ensure that vulnerable people are protected, and positive outcomes are achieved for local authorities and taxpayers.
All CIVEA members have fully trained welfare teams dedicated to identifying and supporting people who are vulnerable or in genuine financial hardship. They use the same technology tools as DCA’s – such as credit reference checks and affordability assessment to highlight behaviour that may suggest vulnerability and the need for additional care.
Those identified as potentially vulnerable are put through additional support channels. For example, they are referred to an independent debt advisor, as many prefer an experienced debt advisor to liaise on their behalf.
Industry standard affordability calculations are used – which debt advisors can help the person in debt to fill in – individual agents cannot use their discretion. Calculations also use a budgeting tool identifies any benefits the individual could apply for and whether the individual is over-paying on other services, such as gas and electricity.
Civil enforcement has a number of crucial advantages in its current processes. Unlike DCA’s, CIVEA members cannot charge interest on debt, removing the risk that individuals end up in a spiral of debt.
In the case of council tax, local authorities aim to recover debt within the financial year it is owed. However, CIVEA members can, in certain circumstances, arrange with the local authority for repayment to take place over a longer period if it reduces genuine hardship and increases the likelihood the debt will be repaid in full. This balance provides fairness to taxpayers and vital funding for councils while strengthening valuable protections for the vulnerable.
The majority of CIVEA members providing services to local authorities will have a relationship with local free debt advice providers. These are usually funded in part by the local authority and will have established communication channels. Enforcement firms operate Welfare Teams who liaise with debt advisers to put cases on hold and negotiate payment arrangement. In some cases the approval of the local authority is also required to ensure current liabilities are being managed.
PO Box 745
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You can contact us by email, letter or telephone.