The High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) has welcomed a clarification issued by the Ministry of Justice regarding the use of technology in enforcement and its place in the fee scale.
In its clarification the MoJ makes it clear that in order to take control of goods or charge any fee beyond the Compliance Stage fee, the HCEO, or their enforcement agent, must physically attend the relevant premises.
This means it is not possible to set up an effective controlled goods agreement without a visit.
In welcoming the clarification, the Association is also backing its members increased use of technology to engage with debtors without making a visit to their premises.
Andrew Wilson, Chairman of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association, said: “We welcome this statement from the Ministry of Justice. This is a clear and unambiguous endorsement of HCEOA’s position and the approach that our members are already taking to look after the health and safety of debtors, customers and their staff.
“Early intervention with customers during the Compliance Stage helps people to understand the process and raise any concerns. Ultimately it leads to better engagement and increased collection rates. Making effective and appropriate use of modern technology can only help that.”
He added: “The Compliance Stage fee always has been intended to cover all office-based activities, including the use of technology to engage with customers, and this remains the case.”
The statement from the MoJ comes after a request for clarity from the Association as to how the regulations apply to the use of technology such as video calls and where it sits in the fee structure set out by UK Government for High Court enforcement.
The UK Government response (issued by the Ministry of Justice on 29 July 2020) to the Association’s request for clarification says:
- “In our view there does not seem to be anything in the Taking Control of Goods Regulations (the Regulations) or the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (the Act) that either expressly prohibits or permits an enforcement agent to enter into a controlled goods agreement with a judgment debtor virtually via a video call. It is likely that such a situation was not contemplated by the drafters of the legislation. Given this lack of clarity, there is a risk that a court may interpret that the Regulations and Act require CGAs to be agreed in person.
In our view, the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014 do envisage that an enforcement agent will physically attend the property in order to be eligible to charge the enforcement stage fee.”
The High Court Enforcement Officers Association represents members across England and Wales, who received over 120,000 writs in 2019, collecting just under £116 million in outstanding judgment debt on behalf of creditors.
Its members have recently unanimously voted to adopt as industry Best Practice a new approach to enforcement in a Covid-19 environment which will apply from 24 August 2020.
The post-lockdown plan, entitled “A Flexible and Sympathetic Approach to Enforcement”, which sets out the principles, working practices and behaviours that all High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO’s) and representatives will follow once visits to residential properties are allowed.