In the first of a two-part series, we look back at the past year at Bristow & Sutor and consider the significant moments, challenges and successes along the way.
This year has proved above all else that with a sensitive and pragmatic attitude applied, there is no reason why debt recovery responses cannot succeed, even at time of crisis. At Bristow & Sutor, our response to COVID-19 was agile and flexible, without making sweeping changes to the way we work. Like many successful companies, we are proud of the way we operate. Drastic change was unnecessary and ‘business as usual’ was our ethos wherever this was possible.
Whilst coronavirus will forever be associated with 2020, there have been many fantastic achievements worth remembering. The business has achieved many significant contacts all over the country and is especially pleased to have been selected for the provisions of services by Transport for London (TfL). Since May, we have been collecting unpaid Penalty Charge Notices at warrant stage for all road charging schemes and also traffic enforcement contraventions. This has resulted in the production and implementation of new letters, business rules, action codes and reports. Bristow & Sutor employees have adapted their own processes to fully immerse themselves in the TfL way of working, strategically positioning their service delivery to reflect an extension of the iconic TfL brand.
Many of our employees have gone above and beyond this year to ensure ongoing safety and success. Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, role responsibilities and accountabilities have adapted flexibly and continue to do so as we react and respond to changes in Government advice, rules and policy. We undertook a massive mobilisation exercise in March to help staff work from home during the first lockdown and rolled out a brand-new contact centre. Thanks to our ongoing investment in innovative technology systems and software development, we were prepared to remain operational and contactable with no disruption to customer service. Portals, apps, emails, telephone lines and debt recovery tools have remained entirely accessible for debtors.
Initially, we were faced with a team of directly employed enforcement agents (EAs) who were unable to conduct any visits, but thankfully, were able to utilise the Government Job Retention Scheme and furlough these members of staff; topping up their salary ourselves to represent full pay. As a business, we have always championed a direct model of employment, but this was an unexpected benefit of operating in this manner. Jobs were retained and clients could safely expect an experienced team ready to return when the time was right. This also led to us being able to resume recruitment activity whilst the first lockdown was still in place and begin hiring for trainee EAs, Collection Officers and several other roles within the business. Collections and enforcement agencies may have been on the front-line of businesses affected by social distancing measures, but growth has remained an integral part of our future strategy.
All of our furloughed EA staff continued to receive training and certification throughout the summer months, meaning they were ready to work again as soon as visits were permitted to resume at the end of August. This was of huge benefit to local authorities who could not afford a further backlog of cases when income is vital to funding essential local services. All staff at Bristow & Sutor were also encouraged to undertake an e-learning course on Mental Health Awareness through iHasco. The business invested in more trained Mental Health First Aid staff as we recognised the importance of increased well-being support, especially in light of the global pandemic.
Civil Enforcement agencies have not always been known for their cohesive nature, but we have seen this in abundance across the industry since the onset of COVID-19. The Taking Control of Goods and Certification of Enforcement Agents (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, laid before parliament in April, directly impacted every Civil Enforcement agency. Lead by the advice and guidance of CIVEA, a unified and collective approach was adopted and rolled out for the good of all firms, employees, clients, debtors and the general public. This included adhering to a Post-Lockdown Support Plan that outlined appropriate ongoing contact with debtors and re-engagement advice. From Monday 20th July, we began supplying reconnection letters to debtors, allowing them to set up flexible payment arrangements and discuss changing circumstances before services recommenced on Monday 24th August.
There has arguably never been a more important time for Council's to achieve support for enforcement activity as there has been in 2020, to help fill the holes left by the loss of revenue streams, the additional pressure of reduced NDR income and provide increased support to those impacted financially by the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, the key to resolving an outstanding debt is and always has been, good communication. With care and consideration, we have continued to achieve this successfully, even during an unprecedented five-month period of no EA visits.
The fair treatment and support of the vulnerable is embedded into the Bristow & Sutor company culture and this remains a driving force behind our direct employment model and comprehensive training initiatives. As a business, we have always supported and considered the unique circumstances of every debtor. It remains more important than ever that we continue to act in this way, as the reality of the coronavirus is that vulnerable cases and financial hardship will continue to affect people in 2021 and beyond. Whilst it is important to acknowledge that more people could find themselves facing difficult circumstances, the skills and techniques required to handle these scenarios remains the same.
Bristow & Sutor successfully collected over £8million for its clients during the lockdown the first lockdown and no complaints were received from debtors in that timeframe. Nearly all of our clients have changed how they do things in some way during 2020, meaning we have had to remain agile and willing to adapt to many bespoke methods.
Check back next week for Part 2, where we review some of the technological changes we have made, the results of the return to enforcement and preview our plans for 2021 and beyond.