Enforcement agents are bound by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and government-supported National Standards. There are additional requirements set by individual local authorities in service level agreements and performance targets that agents are contractually bound to meet.
In addition, CIVEA members are required to comply with a Code of Practice, which is independently monitored and enforced.
The judicial process for enforcing public debt is highly prescriptive and follows a clear timetable. This is because the right to collect debt is awarded to a local authority with the granting of a court order or warrant that is only valid for 12 months. The costs of recovering debt are incurred by the enforcement agency and added to the total repayments. There is no cost to the taxpayer.
On the whole, the enforcement industry and those in debt have benefited from the clarity of new rules. The 2013 regulations and National Standards give a clear explanation of how agents can operate and what debtors can expect from the process. Before 2014 a bailiff’s visit was compulsory. Since 2014 at least half of cases do not involve an enforcement visit.
Where both parties adhere to the rules the process runs smoothly and can be a positive experience.
However, it is important for you to know your rights and the facts about the enforcement process.
People are often disappointed that they were not allowed to set up a repayment plan. This depends on each individual’s circumstances.
There are a surprising number of payment arrangements in place, especially for Council Tax debt. There are twice as many payment arrangements than debt cases collected in full.
But these are not obligatory. The local authority may not have given the enforcement agent discretion to agree a payment plan, perhaps because an arrangement has been broken in the past.
An important point is that once the Notice of Enforcement has been sent and you have agreed to a repayment plan, you must keep up payments.
If you miss a payment it is automatically referred to an enforcement agent to visit and the enforcement fee will be added. There is no further notice given until the agent visits your property.
People are often advised that if they pay their court fine, their debt is cleared without needing to pay the enforcement fees. This is not good advice and prolongs the process.
Your local authority is likely to refer you back to the enforcement agency. If your payment is accepted by the local authority your debt is not cleared and you will still have to pay the enforcement fees.
People are often advised not to speak to enforcement agents. Agents will not go away if they are told that the outstanding debt was paid direct to the creditor (local authority or government department) because the fees and some of the debt will still be outstanding.
When a part payment is made, it is split between the creditor and the EA, so you still have to pay.
You cannot negotiate with the creditor at the enforcement stage, and you will not get a more favourable arrangement.
Once a case has been passed to an enforcement company, the creditor has exhausted its efforts to contact you and has passed responsibility to the enforcement agency.
People often claim that the debt is being disputed and they are waiting to hear the outcome. If you have raised a dispute with the creditor, it is the creditor’s responsibility to ask the enforcement company to place a hold on the case until the dispute is resolved.
If an enforcement agent visits you, it means the dispute was not upheld and the inquiry has concluded. There is no further dispute.
Being able to ask a third-party – parents or family members - to pay off your debt is a helpful option for some people.
The enforcement agent must be clear that the payment is being made voluntarily. You should be certain that you wish to make a payment because it may not be easy to claim a refund later.
It is not against the regulations for an agent to enter a property where there are children, provided the child or children are not alone.
It is also not against the regulations to seek payment from a single parent or elderly person. Neither of these examples are necessarily vulnerable or unable to pay their debts to the council and the agent would need proof otherwise, such as medical documents.
Enforcement agents can only seize certain items. They must complete an Inventory or a Controlled Goods Agreement listing the items.
Once the agent has taken control these items cannot be removed or sold.
Agents cannot take control of items which are required to satisfy your basic domestic needs. Examples include Clothes, Children’s toys, ovens, fridges, dining tables, beds, sofas.
Enforcement agents can visit between the hours of 6am and 9pm or, for business, at any time during trading hours.
Enforcement agents must only enter premises as part of the enforcement process and can only use a door or usual means of entry. In some cases - such as when enforcing magistrates’ court fines – agents can force entry using a locksmith.
Often people are advised not to answer the door to an enforcement agent. This is likely to prolong your debt situation and may increase costs. It will not resolve your debt. The best way to sort out your debts is to talk to people who can help, including the enforcement agent in person and on the phone.
More details about your rights and the law are available in our Frequently Asked Questions section
The 2014 reforms under the Taking Control of Goods regulations provided standardisation of enforcement practices, which has helped to drive improve industry performance and provide clear rules on public debt collection. For example, changes to the law, introduction of a transparent costs structure and the enhancement of the certification process. There are also rules on the powers of entry and most importantly the measures we can take to recover outstanding debts without visiting a property.
Prior to 2014, all debts were collected through a visit to debtors’ homes or businesses. Now around half of all debt is paid at the Compliance Stage without agent needing to visit at all.
The successes of the reforms are clear and include:
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If you have a complaint or concern about one of our members, please go to our complaints page for advice
CIVEA is unable to discuss complaint matters over the telephone and complaints should be sent in writing. This is to ensure that the details of your complaint are accurately recorded and understood which makes it easier in addressing your complaint thoroughly. Please advise if you have a disability, so that we can make reasonable adjustments.
You can contact us by email, letter or telephone.