A recent freedom of information request by the Money Advice Trust (MAT) revealed that English and Welsh councils' use of Enforcement Agents has increased by 16% during the past two years. In response to the MAT's request, some sections of the press have been quick to paint bailiffs as Dickensian villains. We at Dukes Bailiffs welcome this challenge as a opportunity to set ourselves apart from the crowd.
Enforcement in context
In a year that has seen council tax payments overtake personal debt as the biggest source of concern for many people in financial difficulty, a wave of anger has been directed at councils for pursuing this debt from struggling residents.
However, taking a closer look at the situation reveals a nuanced picture. Changes to council tax benefits in April 2013 cut government support for residents and put the onus on local authorities to support struggling locals. Unfortunately, this shift took place alongside cuts that slashed council budgets by 10%.
According to figures from The Institute for Fiscal Studies, these combined pressures have caused a spike in councils' problem debts. In this context, and against a long-term backdrop of £10bn of further cuts, it’s little wonder that local authorities need help with their cash flows.
Without help from Enforcement Agencies, councils could not secure the funds they need to operate in the current economic climate. This dependency does not mean, however, that Enforcement Agents should be deaf to criticism. Colin Naylor, Managing Director at Dukes Bailiffs, says that 'the best response to negative publicity is to ensure that Agents are transparent and subject to high ethical standards.'
At present, commentators such as The Guardian consider responsible debt collection to be creditors' responsibility, but most local authorities and businesses have neither the time nor the skills to engage with debtors in this way. Sensitive Enforcement Agents like Dukes Bailiffs offer a solution to this dilemma.
Honesty and trust is crucial in building relationships with debtors. Other companies' mistakes show intimidation to be a weak strategy that is particularly unhelpful when clients' debtors are also primary stakeholders.
We at Dukes Bailiffs are convinced that if Enforcement Agents put time and energy into helping debtors build affordable payment plans, our industry will be seen as a helping hand rather than a clenched fist.
For more information about our ethical approach to enforcement, contact Dukes Bailiffs today.