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Councils' use of Enforcement Agents to be debated by MPs

While we at Dukes Bailiffs specialise in ethical debt recovery, not all firms hold themselves to such high standards. Other companies' malpractice has tarnished the industry, and gave impetus to reforms that placed restrictions on Enforcement Agents' behaviour in 2014. Now Yvonne Fovargue, Labour MP for Makerfield, is proposing a bill that would further limit Enforcement Agents' conduct. Will the proposed changes have a positive effect?

What's on the cards?

If supported, Mrs. Fovargue's 'Regulation of Enforcement Agents (Collection of Council Tax Arrears) Bill' will lead to the establishment of an ombudsman position and turn existing 'good practice' guidelines on use of Enforcement Agents into legal requirements. At a time when uncollected council debts stand at at over £2bn, it's important that attempts to deal with rogue firms don't turn councils against ethical companies too.

If debt recovery outfits are acting responsibly and in line with 2014's interpretation of the 2007 'Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act', there should be no reason to fear the introduction of an ombudsman. What is concerning, however, is that Mrs. Forvargue is encouraging councils to avoid Enforcement Agents entirely. While we at Dukes Bailiffs support any changes that purge the industry of crude scare tactics, the suggestion that local authorities should look to establish "affordable repayment plans" instead of using Enforcement Agents utterly misrepresents our services.

A history of best practice

Our team of Debt Advisors and Enforcement Agents already use their expertise to produce affordable payment plans in conjunction with debtors and councils. We broke new ground by setting up a site dedicated to giving debtors money advice, and consistently go the extra mile to protect vulnerable individuals who've fallen into debt. This approach allows us to safeguard local authorities' reputations by making sure honest individuals aren't lumped in with deliberate non-payers.

We have a proven record of helping councils to maximise debt recovery, and pride ourselves on our transparent and competitive fee structure. New legislation should not deprive local authorities of ethical ways to boost dwindling budgets during austerity, and a distinction should be made between model Enforcement Agents and those who are lagging behind.

If you work for a local authority that's struggling to get by on austerity budgets, contact a Dukes Debt Advisor to find out how our services could help you today.

Living on the edge: UK councils and financial failure

Local Government Association (LGA) chairman and Conservative peer Lord Porter recently caused alarm by suggesting that 12 to 14 UK councils could be nearing financial collapse. What is the current situation, and how close is the edge?

Counting the cost

The BBC has reported that Chancellor George Osborne is planning cuts amounting to around 25-40% of current council budgets. The LGA says that these reductions could leave local authorities £20bn worse off.

In response to criticism of shrinking council purses, the government has been quick to point out that local authorities have a reserve of £22bn that could absorb austerity shocks.

Safeguarding services

While righting the economy painlessly is a pleasant idea, council reserves are not the untouched bounty that Westminster suggests. A 2015 CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) study found that 94% of council cash is already earmarked for future projects.

Several local authority representatives have raised concerns that community wellbeing is being affected by austerity: Cambridgeshire county council leader Steve Count says his council would be short of funds even if every local public library were to be closed.

Fighting for survival

The government hopes that cuts will force councils to be more innovative and efficient. While only time will tell if this is truly possible on a national scale, it does seem that several steps could be taken to safeguard services.

The Grant Thornton UK/Localis 'Making Devolution Work' report found that 95% of Local Enterprise Partnerships feel economic gains could be made through further devolution. George Osborne’s suggestion that local authorities may gain control of £26bn of business rates is also good news for struggling councils.

Improving payment systems to track cash flows and monitor debt could help to ease council budgets, as could switching to ethical Enforcement Agents like Dukes Bailiffs. Although recovering unpaid monies will not rectify the current situation overnight, sensitive debt collection may give local authorities enough breathing space to cope with further cuts.

If you work for a local authority and are concerned about future cash flows, contact Dukes Bailiffs to discuss how our services could reduce pressure on your budget.

Plymouth City Council encouraging residents to avoid loan sharks

While some news reports – notably from the BBC – have raised concerns that a clampdown on payday money lenders will lead to a resurgence in loan sharks, Plymouth City Council has teamed up with an unlikely partner to ensure the sharks don't get their teeth into local residents.Empty Purse

Fishy finance

Loan sharks are unlicensed, illegal lenders targeting individuals and families struggling with debt. With unscrupulous individuals demanding interest of up to 700%, they can quickly cause debt problems to spiral. But Plymouth City Council are refusing to let them resurface.

According to the Plymouth Herald, the council has partnered with the National Marine Aquarium for the Say No To Fishy Finance campaign. Backed by the Illegal Money Lending Team, the campaign draws on the handy visual imagery of the aquarium's inhabitants to draw attention to the dangers faced by those who turn to loan sharks. The National Marine Aquarium is also offering prizes to residents who help spread the message on Twitter and Facebook by sharing posts with the #FishyFinance hashtag.

But what of the theory that the clampdown on licenced payday loan companies will leave some people with no choice but to seek out unscrupulous sharks?

Stepping in

Plymouth Council has been keen to highlight the alternatives available to those who are struggling with debt. Councillor Chris Penberthy told the Herald: “Credit Unions are a great way to both save and borrow money in an affordable way and without the high interest rates and crippling debts that make life unaffordable for many people.”

As well as raising awareness of options available to those struggling with debt, councils can also be proactive in reaching out to individuals in arrears with their payments. Debt collection isn't about demanding the repayment of funds, no matter what the personal impact. That's the realm of loan sharks. At Dukes Bailiffs, we believe in engaging with debtors to understand their situation, and set up payment plans that are fair and affordable.

To speak with a Dukes Bailiffs advisor about our services for local authorities, visit our Contact Us page.

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