As a High Court Enforcement team who like to “push the envelope” in terms of enforcement activity, we watch the questions asked of politicians involved in reforming enforcement activity with great interest. So, it was good to see a written response to a question in the UK Parliament this month about the progress being made by the Justice Select Committee and its recommendations for the private enforcement agency sector.
The questions asked by MP Liz Saville-Roberts, revolve around the barriers to making a complaint about enforcement and enforcement agent activity, and the progress generally on the findings of the Justice Select Committee in relation to aggressive bailiffs. All the questions we felt were valid (see http://bit.ly/2mg8p7l ). Barriers to asking complaints has been an issue in enforcement services for many years, including asking questions of HMCTS – being county court bailiffs. Just because a bailiff works for HMCTS rather than the private sector makes him or her no less answerable to the public if a complaint is raised. That is not to say that there is any basis to the complaint. But the mechanics of raising a complaint and getting an answer should – as many of us know – be online, and within a sensible “customer service” timeline.
Putting hurdles in the way of complainants makes any service delivery fraught and unnecessarily so. If there is no problem with how the enforcement process has operated, why make it difficult if people want to complain?
In our experience, complainants today come through various channels including Facebook, and LINKEDIN and we have to be ready to answer those complaints as if they were from customers. Our CEO, Claire Sandbrook, has always said that as an AHCEO her customer comes in triplicate, being the creditor, the debtor and the court. If you look at complaints in this way, then you just have to deliver a system of complaints handling that deals with all three sets of interest.
Interestingly in his response, Edward Argar, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice, confirms that his department will liaise with the Trade Unions (whose members include county court bailiffs), on the recommendations made by the Justice Select Committee. If the Under-Secretary and his team are smart, they will look at the use of body worn cameras by county court bailiffs – both for the protection of these bailiffs and also for the protection of the public. There is no point having a double standard here when public sector bailiffs are doing the same work as their counterparts in the private sector. This will achieve consistency of approach for the public which is needed in every aspect of enforcement service delivery.
Ultimately asking the questions, and answering these points, will lead to improvements in this controversial but essential part of the justice system. Every bailiff and every bailiff agency should operate to the same consistent standard which delivers a fair and balanced outcome.
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