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 or a Magistrates’ court with the granting of a court order that may only be 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 often complain that they were not allowed to set up a repayment plan.
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. In local authority cases, the council may not have given the enforcement agent discretion to agree a payment plan.
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 think that they can avoid paying additional fees if they pay their court fine, council tax and traffic fine directly to the creditor after the case has been passed to an enforcement agent. Choosing to pay the creditor directly, will not clear your debt or avoid your liability for the fees and the enforcement company will continue in their enforcement action to recover the amounts due.
The local authority and the Magistrates’ court is likely to refer you to the enforcement agency if you try to pay them directly.
Agents will not go away if they are told that the outstanding debt was paid direct to the local authority or the court.
A partial payment is split between the court and the EA, so you still have to pay.
You cannot negotiate with your local authority or the court at the enforcement stage and you will not get a more favourable arrangement.
Once a case has been passed to an enforcement agent, the local authority or the court has exhausted its efforts to contact you and is no longer open to negotiation.
People often claim that the debt is being disputed and they are waiting to hear the outcome.
If an enforcement agent visits you it means your case was not upheld and 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 require other proof of vulnerability, such as medical documents.
Enforcement agents can only seize certain items. They must complete 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 a 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.
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:
New regulations and National Standards have brought about a cultural change in how vulnerable people are treated.
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.
Debt advice charities work 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 often, for many reasons, refuse to engage with 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.
PO Box 745
If you wish to make a complaint against a member of CIVEA, please go to our complaints page and follow the procedure detailed there. Your email will be acknowledged within 5 working days.
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.