Bristow & Sutor

Social Distancing

April 2020

Social distancing highlights the benefits of directly employed enforcement approach

Collections and enforcement agencies in the UK are on the front line of businesses affected by the social distancing measures that are essential to tackling COVID-19. The inability to safely undertake visits and inspections is a unique challenge creating great uncertainty for many employees, businesses, clients, customers and local authorities. But some agencies are successfully managing business continuity throughout the pandemic thanks, in part, to a model of direct employment.

In accordance with Government measures to combat COVID-19, Bristow & Sutor temporarily closed its physical offices last month and no enforcement agents (EAs) are being deployed to visit any properties until social distancing measures subside. As Bristow & Sutor directly employs its staff, all EAs have been furloughed on full pay – receiving 80% from Government and 20% topped up by the company. This is just one example of the support and protection that directly employed models of business can provide.

All furloughed EA staff at Bristow & Sutor will also continue to receive training and certification, so they are ready to work as soon as it is announced as safe to do so. From a local authority perspective this is essential, as businesses who have not retained staff will need to recruit again at this time; whereas directly employed agencies will be prepared to provide best-in-class support immediately. This is made all the more essential when considering that some debtors may not engage with correspondence at this time.

This is not to say that contact and debt resolution is unachievable in the current climate. Whilst EAs and some other members of staff have been furloughed, Bristow & Sutor has undertaken a massive mobilisation exercise to help staff work from home if they can. Thanks to innovative technology systems and previous investment in software development, the business remains operational and open, with members of staff available by phone and on email with minimal disruption to customer service. Portals, apps, emails, telephone lines and debt recovery tools all remain accessible for debtors who need to discuss their situation – with great consideration being given to the unique pressures and circumstances many find themselves currently.

Not many would claim to have predicted the onset of the coronavirus and it is unlikely to have been sighted as a key reason for a direct model of employment previously. Bristow & Sutor took the decision to fully employ staff to ensure the company retains full responsibility and accountability, full transparency on all visits, and to provide highly trained agents with body cameras and vehicles that are trackable. 

The company also operates a policy of ‘case rotation’ meaning that an EA only has ‘ownership’ of the case for one week during which time they will undertake visits and update the case file using their PDA. This will affect post social distancing success  as once it is safe to visit debtors again, there is no need for local authorities to be kept waiting for one agent to clear their backlogged schedule; the next contact will be carried out by a different EA who will have full access to the case notes.  This ‘peer review’ is an important feature of the company’s model and can only be delivered through the use of directly employed staff.

Andy Rose, CEO at Bristow & Sutor, says, “It is my hope, and prediction, that all enforcement agencies will adopt a directly employed model in the not too distant future. At Bristow & Sutor, it is our committed intention, to the very best of our ability, to protect our workforce, ensure the safety of the vulnerable in our community and work with all partners and customers through this unprecedented situation. We want to help during these uncertain times. By contacting us now, we can arrange more flexible, longer term payment plans.”

One of the UK’s leading players specialising in local authority debt recovery, Bristow & Sutor has over 42 years’ experience in the collection of local council tax, non-domestic rates and penalty charge notices and employs 168 EAs located in strategic areas around the country.