Whilst many organisations have had to adopt to a new ‘normal’ way of working, the civil enforcement industry should be continuing to handle recovery cases using robust vulnerability processes and sensitivity says Paul Kyte of Bristow & Sutor and Rob Shoebridge at Derby City Council.
Market Development Manager, Bristow & Sutor:
The civil enforcement industry may be questioning how to proceed with business during the COVID-19 pandemic and what is the best approach in handling debtor cases if more individuals are facing increased financial hardship. Some may argue that it is better to put cases on hold until there is a definitive roadmap for pandemic recovery. At Bristow & Sutor, we believe that business within the civil enforcement industry should still continue to operate as usual – using the same sensitivity that all recovery cases should be handled with. It is crucial that a considerate and balanced approach post lockdown is implemented, so as not to create backlog when income to fund vital local services will be needed most. COVID-19 is, in some ways, no different to the last recession or indeed individuals facing financial hardship at any time. Tried and tested vulnerability processes are a key component to communicate with debtors using a sensitive and pragmatic approach. The training and behaviours of Enforcement Agents are also a big part of the process, especially for Penalty Charge Notices.
The proof can be seen in our current case statistics. Working on PCN cases on behalf of Derby City Council, we have had no complaints during the lockdown period. 111 cases are in payment arrangements, which is 10% of all live cases. Our overall income since lockdown equates to £18,445 verses income of £53,875 during the same period last year (34.2%) with minimal new cases thus far and zero visits. Review arrangements account for 28% of arrangements as opposed to 3% this time last year – these are cases where we maintain contact with the debtor to review and adjust arrangements accordingly, taking into account changing individual circumstances.
We are working together with our clients to ensure we operate with practicality and rationality, but above all, with sensitivity at the forefront of our processes. With over 200,000 current live cases we have had no complaints on how we have handled cases since the Lockdown began, the only complaint received during this period was a challenge against the PCN being issued.
Civil Enforcement and Parking Services Team Manager, Derby City Council
It is important that we try and keep to our business as usual model wherever we can. As a matter of course our team deal with cases sensibly, so this puts us right where we need to be when it comes down to dealing with vulnerability. Having worked closely with Paul we have agreed a way for Bristow & Sutor to operate with increased flexibility in respect of payment plans. We have even introduced the opportunity for Bristow & Sutor to approach the Council to discount what is owed should a debtor be willing to make a ‘full and final’ payment offer. This is not a time for ‘computer says no’, it is a time for empathy and understanding in order to help debtors resolve outstanding fines to remove the worry from their minds.
We are constantly reviewing our approach but, throughout the month of April, new caseloads continued to be sent to Bristow & Sutor and these cases have been worked on in the agreed manner with collections and payment arrangements being set, all, it should be noted, without one complaint being received about an insensitive approach. Whilst we could have taken the view to hold all enforcement and fresh work, we didn’t think this was a responsible thing to do in the long term. Putting everything on hold is simply taking a blanket approach for all debtors and this is not reflective of individual circumstances and needs, something which can become apparent once contact is made by Bristow & Sutor with the case then being triaged accordingly.
The last month has shown us that people seem to be dealing with their correspondence in a much more efficient manner than normal, seemingly giving it a greater level of priority than we have experienced before. This, together with the fact holding cases will create backlogs for the Council, the Traffic Enforcement Centre and Bristow & Sutor, means a business as usual approach with the caveat of being pragmatic and empathetic, is the right path to take.
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