The enforcement industry, justifiably some might say, has years of negativity and stereotyping to live down. Even the word ‘bailiff’ permeates the public consciousness in a variety of negative connotations, despite attempts to professionalise our sector. Enforcement Agents, as bailiffs are now rightly known, can also face huge challenges as pointed out in a prominent piece in the Financial Times last month. The article highlighted ‘industry experts’ who estimated around 80% of EA’s were classed as self-employed.
I truly believe that if we are to professionalise this industry, we need to turn that figure on its head. The article goes on to point out how problematic self-employed status can be on a very human level – sick pay; out-of-pocket expenses; and job security are just some of the factors highlighted. My question is this: how can we expect our Enforcement Agents to perform at their best, if those leading the industry aren’t giving their best in return? We’ve made a very clear decision that all our Enforcement Agents are fully employed, putting us vehemently in the 20%. We believe this is absolutely vital to us doing a good job for our clients.
Debt recoveries are a complex business, but human factors need to be considered first. Local Authorities, in particular, need the reassurance that the people they’re working with adhere to the letter – and the spirit – of the rules that govern us. Ensuring that we act in an ethical, fair, measured and appropriate way, is the only way of operating effectively.
Welcome steps have been taken from within our industry, and we have engaged with government on the steps we need to take to promote trust and drive fairness, especially when it comes to vulnerable debtors. This is an ongoing journey, not a final destination, and all enforcement agencies, whoever they count as clients, need to shoulder the responsibility to collectively improve our industry.
Codes of practice and company values are well and good, but business also need to open themselves up to independent scrutiny. Last year, we were the first of our class to set up a truly independent Advisory Panel who could give authentic, impartial and, when it needs to be, frank feedback on our working practices good and bad. I truly believe this has had a massive impact on our business. I would welcome and encourage others to take similar steps.
The article in the FT highlights the perception problem, but that is only going to be addressed if we all take our responsibilities seriously for the collective good. This doesn’t just matter for our industry, but it matters for our clients, our employees and the public at large. Whilst the industry has made great strides in recent years, coverage such as this shows that there is still a long way to come. We can achieve real and effective, lasting change, through a coordinated approach focussed on putting our trust in the frontline.