Updated: Sep 24
Vulnerability and the business of enforcing court judgments are not “easy bedfellows”. Be that as it is may it is incumbent on all of us in the enforcement industry to figure out strategies and workable policies which ensure vulnerable people are identified and then treated with care when they are caught up in an enforcement case. Bailiffs may not take control of goods when the vulnerable person is alone at home. If debtor is vulnerable, creditor must take their cases back.
A recent story caught the eye of our CEO, Claire Sandbrook, who is herself an Authorized High Court Enforcement Officer. It involved a pensioner who is customer of Thames Water (see http://bit.ly/2xbDNG7). The saddest thing about this story was how this man could only say “I guess I’m going to die soon anyway”, when discussing the fact bailiffs were chasing him for a water bill of £817.08. He was reported to be 75 and suffering from chronic back pain.
This is exactly the sort of story that puts the enforcement industry on the back foot. A corporate client uses enforcement agents as part of its process and the enforcement business enforcing the judgments is pleased to do so because this type of work often comes in hundreds if not thousands of cases. But with such large numbers of cases to deal with how does an enforcement company deal with the relatively small number of cases of vulnerability that are thrown up as a result of an agent’s visit? And once again, as we have in so many of our blogs, where is the data from government or the industry on the topic of vulnerability? How many cases are we seeing of vulnerability – both real and fake – in the enforcement industry?
Our view is that more needs to be done and should be done by both industry and Government to help the vulnerable people that are caught up in an enforcement situation. We feel that the Ministry of Justice should be supporting the enforcement function by helping to fund independent research into this area of enforcement activity. We say this as Government has reviewed its options for enforcement and has come to the conclusion it has to have enforcement agents as part of the legal system. In coming to that conclusion, it has issued a voluntary code of national standards for enforcement (see http://bit.ly/2ZWcFaP). In this code it sets out the approach on how to deal with people in vulnerable situations and offers a non-exhaustive list of the types of vulnerability to be considered. Being elderly is one of the classes of vulnerability expressly mentioned, and on the face of it this must be right.
The enforcement industry itself could do itself many favors by creating a working party across the professional associations (CIVEA, HCEOA, IRRV) to study and report on vulnerability and how it can encourage those working in the enforcement industry to improve the response to vulnerable situations. Perhaps this is something the Enforcement Law Reform Group could work on as a project.
In the meantime, each operator of an enforcement business has a responsibility to address this problem, as does every corporate client or organization which uses enforcement as part of its process. It is not a problem that is going to reduce, it is a nettle which has to be grasped.
Here at Shergroup we are working on strengthening our training of enforcement agents and support teams so that our response to a vulnerable situation offers the right level of support and signposting to expert agencies.
As we said at the beginning of this blog piece, vulnerability and enforcement do not sit well together – so more has to be done to conquer the challenge of ensuring that when a person has a vulnerability it is dealt with appropriately in the enforcement system. It remains a “work in progress” item for the entire industry.