Chair of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA), Alan J. Smith, looks at the Enforcement Conduct Board’s accreditation scheme.

As part of our pursuit of a just and fair society, the legal system relies heavily on the enforcement of writs. High Court Enforcement Officers play a pivotal role in ensuring that these judgments are carried out efficiently and ethically.

In a move toward enhancing the oversight of enforcement in England and Wales, the Enforcement Conduct Board (ECB) has taken significant steps to introduce a comprehensive accreditation scheme.

register of accredited enforcement firms has been published on the ECB’s website for the first time. It marks an important step for the ECB, which was set up in 2022 to provide independent oversight to the debt enforcement sector in England and Wales. Accreditation for each firm lasts for a year, after which it will need to be renewed.

Since the launch of the scheme in September 2023 there has been an excellent response from High Court enforcement businesses, with the firms accredited making up 97.5% of the market share of High Court Writs of Control.

In order to become accredited, firms must comply with the ECB’s accreditation framework, including meeting the following criteria:

  • Complying with the requirements of the current Ministry of Justice National Standards
  • Providing the ECB with Quarterly Data Returns
  • Providing information to the ECB on request
  • Payment of the ECB levy (which funds its operation) in a timely fashion.

As a matter of course, our members already agree to follow the National Standards and our own Code of Best Practice when they become authorised. We welcome the transparency accreditation offers in providing the ECB with copies of the Quarterly Data Returns that High Court enforcement businesses have already been submitting to the Ministry of Justice, alongside any other information deemed necessary to ensure accountability and good practice are maintained.

The heart of the matter

At the core of this transformative initiative lies the ECB and its partners’ dedication to ensuring that enforcement officers continue to operate within a framework of strict ethical guidelines and professional competence.

This move not only aligns with the Association’s own Code of Best Practice, but also echoes the sentiments of those who seek justice and fairness. The announcement signifies the initiation of the ECB’s aims to ensure that everyone who experiences enforcement action is treated fairly.

Transparency and Credibility

The creation of an online register of accredited firms, as outlined in the official ECB announcement, promotes openness and accessibility. This online repository will serve as a valuable resource for legal professionals, litigants, and the general public, providing them with easy access to information about accredited civil and High Court enforcement firms. Such transparency not only fosters trust but also empowers individuals with knowledge, ensuring they make informed decisions about the enforcement services they seek.

The Road Ahead

The ECB has outlined its operational plan to develop the accreditation scheme and evolve its activities next year to include complaints handling, and active monitoring of a new set of standards which it will be developing in consultation with the debt advice sector and the enforcement industry (including HCEOA) over the next few months.

I know our members are very much looking forward to seeing the results of this work, including a standardised approach to dealing with vulnerability and affordability.

The introduction of the ECB's accreditation scheme is a cause for optimism. It signifies a firm step towards improved collaboration between the enforcement profession and debt advice sector. As members of the legal community and as individuals who believe in the power of fairness, we welcome the accreditation scheme and are looking forward to working closely with the ECB as it continues to develop its operations.

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