Alan J. Smith, Chair of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA), says the profession welcomes the Enforcement Conduct Board’s (ECB) first ever draft business plan.
For some time now the HCEOA has been engaging with the Enforcement Conduct Board (ECB), to support it in delivering its aim of providing independent oversight for the entire enforcement profession.
We want to ensure fair treatment and appropriate protection for people subject to action by all enforcement agents. What everyone can now see is the detail of how it intends to start delivering this.
The ECB recently released its first full business plan (2023/24) for consultation, setting out its proposed activity and rationale, and welcoming input from the profession, creditors, consumer groups, the debt advice sector, and other organisations with an interest in ensuring enforcement works effectively.
As an Association we’re supportive of the ECB’s aims. We’re already providing insight on the work our members do to enforce High Court writs on behalf of UK businesses and individuals responsibly and safely. We’ll continue to work with the ECB Board in this manner to help it achieve its first outlined priority of collecting data from the enforcement profession to help it better understand the reality of the current landscape.
Standard procedures for vulnerable debtors
One of the key areas understandably highlighted by the ECB in its business plan is wider consultation on the development and implementation of a robust code of practice, focusing on procedures for identifying and dealing with vulnerability and affordability.
For the Association and our members, ensuring vulnerable people are supported flexibly and sympathetically while we work with them to create appropriate resolutions is a priority. Over the past few years, enforcement businesses have massively increased the resources they allocate to effectively identify cases with potential vulnerability. This includes things like:
- dedicated teams within the businesses themselves to help quickly recognise the signs of vulnerability and know what the next steps are.
- working ever more closely with clients to ensure that their specific Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) policies are incorporated into enforcement practices.
- gathering more and better data and analysing it intelligently to support decision making, as well as using technology, such as AI, to pick up indications of vulnerability through customer support.
While the Association’s own Code of Best Practice and the Government’s Breathing Space initiatives both outline processes for vulnerable debtors, one of the biggest obstacles our members face is an unwillingness from some debtors to engage with the enforcement process in the early stages. Not only does this increase the level of fees added to the debt, but it also impacts the enforcement agent’s ability to determine vulnerabilities and deal with these cases appropriately. We’re hopeful that a standardised approach that spans the profession and includes the debt relief sector will help to encourage early engagement of debtors and enable our members to provide much-needed advice and support.
An independent and simplified complaints system
We are looking forward to further information on how the ECB plans to deal with complaints and welcome the results of its profession-wide review of complaints procedures. While we do have our own procedure in place to handle complaints that are submitted to the Association, we agree that a profession-wide standardised process will be beneficial for debtors and creditors alike to help them navigate this often-complex area.
With the ECB also proposing to produce a plan to assume responsibility for non-ombudsmen complaints, we’re hopeful that the small proportion of cases we have that result in a complaint to the Association will welcome its independent review and decision-making.
The enforcement profession has a key role to play
No one understands this profession, how it is shaped by the complexities and peculiarities of the laws and regulations that govern it, and what the practical impact of changes will be, better than the professionals working within it.
Along with knowledge from our colleagues at CIVEA, the input from HCEOA members can be of huge value to the ECB as it sets out on its important journey towards independent oversight.
This draft business plan is a good start. The goals of greater collaboration and more shared understanding between the enforcement profession and the debt relief sector are definitely worth pursuing.
You can read the ECB’s draft business plan in full here: https://enforcementconductboard.org/current-consultations/