Taking control of goods – the one-year review from the Ministry of Justice
We read with great interest the report on the findings of the one-year review of the new enforcement regulations, having taken part in the research phase as one of the key stakeholders, as did several other High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs). The reforms came into effect on 6th April 2014, with the enactment of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, part 3 and Schedule 12, which were support by new Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014. Part of the reform covered the mandatory training and certification of enforcement agents (as bailiffs had been renamed), as well as the introduction of new National Standards. The research for the review of these reforms was undertaken in 2015 and the report was published on 2nd April 2018.
Purpose of the reformsLet’s be honest, enforcement fees prior to 2014 were set in regulations that were a number of years out of date. Fee reform was definitely required. There had also been concerns, most often raised by the debt advisory sector, about aggressive behaviour by a minority of bailiffs, as they were then called. The reforms strongly intended to address this by addressing:
- Enforcement against vulnerable debtors and where children were the only people present
- Rights of entry, especially to residential premises, to ensure that access was only via a normal means of entry to premises
- Clarifying which goods could be seized
- Preventing premature and unnecessary enforcement
- Protecting debtors against inappropriate enforcement agent behaviour, as well as protecting third parties and co-owners
What’s the verdict?The report states that the standard letters and forms, which give debtors information about the enforcement process, their rights, how to complain and how to obtain debt advice, have increased transparency and consistency. In terms of vulnerable debtors, the report comments on how most of the larger HCEOs have set up training and welfare teams. The report comments:
“Best practice examples include tailored training courses, which include modules on vulnerability developed in consultation with the advice sector.”Whilst this may refer also to other HCEOs, it certainly applies to High Court Enforcement Group, as we have developed level 2 and level 3 RQF (regulated qualifications framework) qualifications on taking control of goods and vulnerability, as well as a quality mark vulnerability workshop. We believe strongly that training plays an essential part in providing a better service to both debtors and creditors, as well as improving recovery rates and eradicating the behaviours that continue to blight the reputation of the enforcement industry. Sadly, this blight still remains, as the Government, whilst acknowledging in this report that the majority of enforcement agents do act professionally and within the rules, still believes that there is a minority acting aggressively and inappropriately. As a result, they will shortly be launching a call for evidence.