Dukes recently met with the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and StepChange to discuss their call for new Enforcement Agent regulations. While we understand and are concerned by rising levels of problem debt, we believe that more rules for Enforcement Agents will not solve the issue. Instead, I think we need to look at the root of the problem.
Regulating Enforcement Agents
In our view, The Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014 provides clear guidelines. The National Standards required of Enforcement Agents lay down strict frameworks for training, certification and behaviour. Agents like ours at Dukes pride themselves on meeting these standards and carrying out their role in a sensitive, efficient and professional manner.
Of course, I’m not naive. I know there are rogue bailiffs out there, and that they can cause issues for vulnerable members of our society. They are also damaging the reputation of our industry and I stand behind attempts to stop them. But more regulation is not the same as more more effective law enforcement, and it’s the latter which I believe needs more attention.
Understanding the problem
As well as finding and stopping irresponsible bailiffs, I also think we could question why so many people are struggling with debt. As the CAB points out, UK households owe around £18.9bn to essential service providers and government. How has this happened?
The answer doesn’t lie at the door of Enforcement Agents. Our industry body, CIVEA, notes that just 18% of the debt identified by the CAB qualified for action by certificated bailiffs, and only a small proportion of that should end with enforcement. So the government and service providers must ask bigger questions about how the debt has been allowed to accrue.
Taking positive action
Perhaps we need to think harder about how we can educate people about debt, and how to help people understand the value of money in an increasingly cashless society. Part of that, as I’ve said before, is looking at the advice people can access. So often people turn to the growing mass of articles online with no idea of who to trust, only arriving at the CAB when the situation is dire. If they had easier access to free, impartial debt advice, the situation may improve.
As Enforcement Agents, I recognise that we too have a responsibility here. It could be that we can do more to contact debtors, offering help, advice and manageable payment plans before sending out Agents to recoup debts. But these actions should be assisted and supported, not regulated. Hamstringing debt enforcement will only limit the ability of struggling councils and hard-working SMEs to recover unpaid debt, and that won’t help the wider economy at all.
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