Claire Sandbrook
 
 
National Standards
 
    Introduction

  1. These standards are intended for use by all enforcement agents, public and private, the enforcement agencgifies that employ them and the major creditors who use their services. Private sector enforcement agents who are recovering debts owed to the public sector perform the vast majority of enforcement work, and this document has established a set of common standards to cover this activity supporting the underpinning legislation. In order to improve the public's perception of the profession, enforcement agents and those who employ them or use their services, must maintain high standards of business ethics and practice.

  2. This national guidance does not replace local agreements, existing agency codes of practice or legislation; rather it sets out what the Ministry of Justice, those in the industry and some major users regard as minimum standards.

  3. We recognise this document is not legally binding, but offer it as a helpful tool for the industry and for creditors which, it is hoped, will inform their own arrangements and against which they may benchmark their professional standards.

  4. Terms used

  5. In this document we have used the following terms:

    Creditor: this includes - a local authority, major or frequent judgment creditors in the civil courts, Government Departments and HM Courts and Tribunals Service to whom financial penalties are paid, and landlords undertaking the commercial rent arrears recovery (CRAR) process.

    Debtor: a person who owes a sum of money - this may be a judgment debt or a criminal financial penalty fine which is in default or a liability order. The debtor should behave lawfully and is encouraged to co-operate with the enforcement agent. The term “debtor” where appropriate and applicable, also covers individuals who are being wrongly pursued for a debt in respect of which they are not the actual debtor.

    Enforcement: we mean the lawful process of warrant or writ execution, and taking control of goods.

    Enforcement Agency: the business that employs enforcement agents, unless specifically indicated (where different arrangements exist); we also include those public sector organisations that have in-house enforcement agents.

    Enforcement Agent: someone who is responsible for the enforcement of court orders against goods (warrants of control) or the person (arrest warrants); we include those employed in the public and private sector, bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers.

    Creditors' Responsibilities

  6. In order for the enforcement process to work effectively, creditors must be fully aware of their own responsibilities. The primary purpose of this guidance for creditors is to draw their attention to their responsibilities when instructing and dealing with enforcement agents/agencies to recover debts on their behalf.

  7. The creditors responsibilities should be observed and set out in terms of agreement with their enforcement agent/agency. They should consider carefully any specific requirements for financial guarantees so that these are adequate, fair and appropriate for the work involved.

  8. Creditors should remember that enforcement agents are acting on their behalf and that ultimately they are responsible, and accountable, for the enforcement agents acting on their behalf.

  9. Creditors should act proportionately when seeking to recover debt, taking into account debtors’ circumstances.

  10. Creditors must notify the enforcement agency of all payments received and other contacts with the debtor, including repayment agreements made with the debtor.

  11. Creditors have a responsibility to tell the debtor that if payment is not made within a specified period of time, action may be taken to enforce payment.

  12. Creditors agreeing the suspension of a warrant or making direct payment arrangements with debtors must give appropriate notification to and should pay appropriate fees due to the enforcement agent for the work they have undertaken.

  13. Creditors must not issue a warrant knowing that the debtor is not at the address, as a means of tracing the debtor at no cost.

  14. Creditors must provide a contact point at appropriate times to enable the enforcement agent or agency to make essential queries, particularly where they have cause for concern.

  15. Creditors must consider the appropriateness of referring debtors in potentially vulnerable situations to enforcement agents and, if they choose to proceed, must alert the enforcement agent to this situation.

  16. Creditors should ensure that there are clear protocols agreed with their enforcement agents governing the approach that should be taken when a debtor has been identified as vulnerable.

  17. Should a debtor be identified as vulnerable, creditors should be prepared to take control of the case, at any time, if necessary.

  18. Creditors should inform the enforcement agency if they have any cause to believe that the debtor may present a risk to the safety of the enforcement agent.

  19. Creditors should have a clear complaints procedure in place to address complaints regarding their own enforcement agents or external enforcement agents acting on their behalf.

  20. Professionalism and conduct of the enforcement agent

  21. Enforcement agents must act within the law at all times, including all legislation and observe all health and safety requirements in carrying out enforcement. They must maintain strict client confidentiality and comply with Data Protection legislation and, where appropriate, the Freedom of Information Act.

    Shergroup provides training on The Data Protection Act for the benefit of all enforcement agents and their support teams.

  22. Enforcement agents must not be deceitful by misrepresenting their powers, qualifications, capacities, experience or abilities, including, but not restricted to;

    • Falsely implying or stating that action can or will be taken when legally it cannot be taken by that agent

      Shergroup Enforcement Agents are trained to understand the limits of a High Court Writ and not to misrepresent their powers in any shape or form.

    • Falsely implying or stating that a particular course of action will ensue before it is possible to know whether such action would be permissible

      Shergroup Enforcement Agents will look at the debtor’s situation and the available assets including property, salary and bank account and make recommendations to a creditor on what is seen. They will underline to the debtor that further enforcement may follow if the debtor does not co-operate or is unable to co-operate with the terms of a Writ of Control.

    • Falsely implying or stating that action has been taken when it has not

      Shergroup Enforcement Agents to make false statements or imply action that cannot be taken. They after all accountable to their Authorised Officer and to the Court for any action taken.

    • Falsely implying or stating that a debtor refusing entry to a property is classed as an offence.

      This would be seen as very bad practice and would amount to Gross Misconduct if carried out by a Shergroup Enforcement Agent.

  23. Enforcement agents must not act in a threatening manner when visiting the debtor by making gestures or taking actions which could reasonably be construed as suggesting harm or risk of harm to debtors, their families, appointed third parties or property.

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents work in a professional manner wearing a suit and tie when visiting debtors or working in suitable clothing when carrying out a Writ of Possession.

  24. Enforcement agents should always produce relevant identification to the debtor, such as a badge or ID card, together with any written authorisation to act on behalf of the creditor (in appropriate debt types).

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents carry an ID badge at all times.

  25. Enforcement agents, for the purpose of taking control of goods shall, without the use of unlawful force, gain access to the goods. The enforcement agent must produce all relevant notices and documents, such as controlled goods agreements, that are required by regulations or statute.

    These are part of the paperwork we produce when we attend at an address – and agents carry these already completed for each job in an effort to encourage someone at the address to sign the Controlled Goods Agreement.

  26. Debtors must not be pressed to make unrealistic offers and should be asked to consider carefully any offer they voluntarily make and where possible refer to free debt advice.

    Debtors are encouraged to seek debt advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and other providers of free debt advice.

  27. Where a creditor has indicated they will accept a reasonable repayment offer, enforcement agents must refer such offers onto the creditor.

    All offers received from debtors are referred to creditors for their consideration.

  28. Enforcement agents must carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner. They must dress and speak appropriately and act with discretion and fairness.

    This is a hallmark of the Shergroup Enforcement TEAM – we take a pride in being smart, professional, calm and dignified in our approach. Our agents are articulate, knowledgeable and balanced in the delivery of the enforcement service they provide.

  29. Enforcement agents must not act in a way likely to be publicly embarrassing to the debtor, either deliberately or negligently (that is to say through lack of care)

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents go out of their way to be the soul of discretion when enforcing any form of Writ against a person or business.

  30. Enforcement agents must act in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. They must not discriminate unfairly on any grounds including those of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

    Discrimination in any form would be treated as Gross Misconduct with instant suspension of duties pending a thorough investigation.

  31. In circumstances where the enforcement agency requires it, and always where there have been previous acts of, or threats of violence by a debtor, a risk assessment should be undertaken prior to the enforcement agent attending a debtor's premises.

    Threat assessments are regularly carried out to ensure the safety of the public and the enforcement agent and supporting agencies such as the police and social services.

  32. Where enforcement agents have identified vulnerable debtors or situations, they should alert the creditor and ensure they act in accordance with all relevant legislation.

    Creditors are alerted if any form of vulnerability is spotted in connection with the debtor or their situation.

  33. Enforcement agents must not seek to enforce the recovery of fees where an enforcement power has ceased to be exercisable.

    Fees are not recovered unless there is a High Court Writ in place.

  34. Statutory or Financial Requirements for Enforcement Agencies1

  35. Enforcement agencies should ensure that audited accounts are available, where required by law. An annual audit of the agency's accounts by independent accountants should be undertaken at least once a year for businesses where this is appropriate.

    An independent audit of Shergroup Limited’s accounts are carried out on a regular basis by the company’s accountants.

  36. Enforcement agencies must comply with statutory obligations, for example, the Companies Act, HMRC provisions, Data Protection, Health & Safety etc.

    Shergroup Limited works with its lawyers to ensure compliance in all regulatory matters.

  37. A separate account for monies due to the creditor should be maintained and accurate books and accounts should be kept and made available to establish monies owed to the creditor.

    Shergroup Limited maintains its records which are reviewed by the company’s accountants.

  38. Enforcement agencies must keep a complete record of all financial transactions in whatever capacity undertaken.

    Shergroup Limited maintains records of all its financial transactions.

  39. Enforcement agencies must maintain suitable and comprehensive insurance cover for both professional indemnity and other risks including employer's liability and public liability.

    Shergroup Limited maintains insurance for all risks in excess of industry norms to protect the public, its staff and agents.

  40. Training and Certification

  41. Enforcement agencies must ensure that all agents, employees and contractors are provided with appropriate training to ensure that they understand and are able to act, at all times, professionally and within the bounds of the relevant legislation. This training should be provided at the commencement of employment and at intervals afterwards to ensure that their knowledge is kept up to date.

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents are trained through Shergroup’s Academy with appropriate training. Agents are also fully supported in the field with access to the Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer if needed.

  42. Professional training/assessment should be to a standard that complies with relevant legislation.

    Shergroup is setting its own standards in terms of training and assessment in the absence of any regulatory standard.

  43. Enforcement agencies must ensure that legislation restricting the enforcement activity to enforcement agents is complied with.

    All Shergroup Enforcement Agents who visit the address of the debtor are certificated with in the terms of the 2007 Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act and supporting Regulations.

  44. Enforcement agencies must ensure that all employees, contractors and agents will at all times act within the scope of current legislation, for example The Companies Act, HMRC provisions, Data Protection, Health and Safety, Equality, and Human Rights Act etc, and have an appropriate knowledge and understanding of it and be aware of any statutory obligations and provide relevant training.

    Relevant checks are carried out and training is given where necessary.

  45. Enforcement agents should be trained to recognise and avoid potentially hazardous and aggressive situations and to withdraw when in doubt about their own or others' safety.

    Conflict Management training is offered to Shergroup Enforcement Agents. Due to the nature of our work and working closely with police officers in a number of constabularies we like to follow policing standards in this area.

  46. Enforcement agents should be trained to recognise vulnerable debtors, to alert creditors where they have identified such debtors and when to withdraw from such a situation.

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents are trained to recognize vulnerable debtors and indeed are encouraged to refer suitable cases to Shergroup’s own charity, The Sherbet Foundation for support where appropriate and with the debtor’s consent.

  47. Complaints/Discipline

  48. Enforcement agencies must operate complaints and disciplinary procedures with which their agents must be fully aware of.

    Shergroup Enforcement Agents are trained in how to respond to complaints and disciplinary procedures.

  49. The debtor should be able to easily find out how to make a complaint and obstacles should not be placed in their way.

    Debtors can make complaints through our online process or by speaking to a member of our Debtor’s Services Team. Complaints are actioned as quickly as possible with the aim to achieve an acceptable resolution for all parties.

  50. The complaints procedure should be set out in plain English, have a main point of contact, set time limits for dealing with complaints and include an independent appeal process where appropriate. A register should be maintained to record all complaints and complainants should be notified of the outcome of disputes.

    Shergroup maintains records of its complaints, the outcomes and as a result where further input may be needed to strengthen our processes. We see complaints as a positive way to improve our service delivery.

  51. Enforcement agents/agencies are encouraged to make use of the complaints and disciplinary procedures of professional associations such as The Civil Enforcement Association or the High Court Enforcement Officers Association.

    Shergroup Limited engages with its professional association as required.

  52. The enforcement agent must make available details of their own and the creditor’s complaints procedure on request or when circumstances indicate it would be appropriate to do so.

    All such requests are actioned promptly.

  53. Information and confidentiality

  54. All notices, correspondence and documentation issued by the enforcement agent/agency must be clear, complete and unambiguous and to the satisfaction of the creditor. They must not use unhelpful legal or technical language and should comply with relevant legislation.

    We prefer all our communications to be in Plain English.

  55. On returning any un-executed warrants, the enforcement agent should report the outcome to the creditor and provide further appropriate information, where this is requested and, where appropriate, paid for by the creditor.

    We provide our reports in an online format and full details of this service are available upon request from our Customer Solutions Team on 0845 890 9200 or by email at enquiries@shergroup.net.

  56. All information obtained during the administration and enforcement of warrants must be treated as confidential between the enforcement agent, debtor, the creditor and any third parties nominated by the debtor.

    We treat all information that we collect as confidential between the parties.

  57. Enforcement agents should provide clear and prompt information to debtors and where appropriate, creditors.

    We look to provide information as conveniently as possible and our first choice is in an online format.

  58. Enforcement agents should, so far as it is practical, avoid disclosing the purpose of their visit to anyone other than the debtor or a third party nominated by the debtor, for example an advice agency representative. Where the debtor is not seen, the relevant documents must be left at the address in a sealed envelope addressed to the debtor.

    Information is left with the debtor or the debtor’s nominated representative and always in a sealed envelope.

  59. Enforcement agents should make debtors aware of the possible additional costs of enforcement which will be incurred if further action becomes necessary. If a written request is made, an itemised account should be provided.

    Information on fees for both creditors and debtors can be requested by email from our Customer Solutions Team at enquiries@shergroup.net. We will look to respond to your request within 48 hours or next working day.

  60. Enforcement agents will clearly explain and give in writing, the consequences of taking control of a debtor's goods.

    For information on this please see our information leaflets which explain what we can and cannot do as enforcement agents.

  61. Times and Hours

  62. Enforcement agents should be respectful of the religion and culture of others at all times. They should carefully consider the appropriateness of undertaking enforcement on any day of religious or cultural observance or during any major religious or cultural festival.

    Shergroup takes a pride in its approach to quality and diversity.

  63. Enforcement action should only be carried out between the hours of 6.00am and 9.00pm, or at any time during trading hours, unless otherwise authorised by a court. Existing legislation must be observed.

    Shergroup enforcement agents follow this standard but it should be noted that agents will be attending at 6.00 am not just leaving home – as vehicles particularly are often only available very early in the morning. If we feel that these hours will interfere with the lawful execution of the Writ then we will make the necessary application to Court for enforcement outside of these hours at a residential address.

  64. Mode of entry

  65. Enforcement agents should not seek to gain peaceable entry to premises under false pretences; for example asking to use the toilet, or to use the telephone. They should be clear as to why they are seeking entry to the premises.

    Shergroup enforcement agents do not mislead the public as to the reason why they need to gain access to the property.

  66. Enforcement agents should only enter premises as part of the enforcement process.

    Shergroup enforcement agents will only ever enter the property of a judgment debtor to enforce a High Court Writ or to discuss payment of an outstanding debt if acting outside of their official duties.

  67. Enforcement agents must only use a door or usual means of entry to enter premises.

    Shergroup enforcement agents only use normal means of entry into a property.

  68. A power to enter premises by force exists for the execution of High Court and County Court debts at business premises or at any premises where an enforcement agent is enforcing criminal penalties. This power should only be used to the extent that it is reasonably required and only after the debtor has been warned that the power exists and the consequences of a wilful refusal to co-operate.

    Shergroup enforcement agents do use this power sparingly at business premises and after the Notice of Enforcement has been served which gives the debtor warning that a High Court Writ of Control has been issued.

  69. A power to re-enter premises by force applies to both residential and business premises where a controlled goods agreement is in place and the goods remain on the premises but the debtor has failed to comply with the repayment terms of the controlled goods agreement. This power should only be used to the extent that it is reasonably required and only after the debtor has been given notice of the enforcement agent’s intention to re-enter.

    Shergroup enforcement agents do use this power but it is rare and if it becomes necessary to re-enter domestic premises then we ask for police officers to accompany the agents as independent witnesses.

  70. Goods

  71. Enforcement agents must only take goods in accordance with the appropriate regulations or statute. In addition creditors may agree other restrictions with agents acting on their behalf.

    Shergroup enforcement agents only take goods which are available and which are not covered by the Regulations as “exempt”.

  72. Enforcement agents must ensure that goods are handled with proper care so that they do not suffer any damage or cause damage to other goods or property, whilst in their possession. Enforcement agents should have insurance in place for goods in transit so that if damage occurs this is covered by the policy.

    Shergroup has all the necessary insurances in place to deal with the immobilisation of vehicles and onwards transit of goods if this becomes necessary. Judgment debtors are warned directly by agents of the increased costs that this will incur. If there is any dispute about the fees that are charged which cannot be resolved through discussion, then we will apply to the Court for the fees to be reviewed and determined.

  73. Enforcement agents should not remove anything clearly identifiable as an item belonging to, or for the exclusive use of a child (person under the age of 16) or items clearly identifiable as required for the care and treatment of the disabled, elderly and seriously ill.

    Shergroup enforcement agents would not remove any such goods and which follows a long established policy of not taking such items into legal control. Shergroup enforcement agents would also consider whether these items were an indicator that the person was vulnerable at the address in question.

  74. A detailed and complete receipt for the goods removed should be given to the debtor or left at the premises in accordance with the appropriate regulations.

    Shergroup enforcement agents record goods taken into legal control and also take contemporaneous photographs of the goods which are annexed to the agents report. This report is made available to the judgment creditor as part of our reporting procedures.

  75. Enforcement agents should take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the value of the goods taken into control to cover the sum outstanding is proportional to the value of the debt and fees owed.

    Shergroup enforcement agents do this as part of their skill set – but if the only item is not proportionate it will be taken into legal control to satisfy the duty of the Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer under the command in the Writ of Control.

  76. Enforcement agents should not take control or remove goods clearly belonging solely to a third party not responsible for the debt. Where a claim is made, the third party should be given clear instructions on the process required to recover their goods.

    Shergroup enforcement agents are well versed in managing the claims of third parties and have updated their procedure to take account of the new CPR Part 85 which sets out the process for determining such claims before the Court.

  77. Enforcement agents should be aware of circumstances where a “no goods” valuation may be appropriate – for example where no goods of sufficient value have been identified; or where the removal of goods would lead to severe hardship for the debtor. In such instances the enforcement agent should make the creditor aware of this situation.

    This is part of our process and we will notify the creditor of situations where there are no goods which are worth removing or where an address is empty. We also recommend further action to assist the creditor in their enforcement process.

  78. Multiple warrants

  79. Where enforcement agents have multiple warrants for a single debtor, an enforcement agent must take control of goods, and sell or dispose of these goods, on the same occasion except where it is not practical to do so.

    This is our own internal standard which is followed where this situation occurs – although it is rare for us to be involved in this sort of situation.

  80. Vulnerable situations

  81. Enforcement agents/agencies and creditors must recognise that they each have a role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected and that the recovery process includes procedures agreed between the agent/agency and creditor about how such situations should be dealt with. The appropriate use of discretion is essential in every case and no amount of guidance could cover every situation. Therefore the agent has a duty to contact the creditor and report the circumstances in situations where there is evidence of a potential cause for concern.

    Shergroup enforcement agents have an established process for identifying vulnerable people and those people that may be considered as socially excluded. Shergroup established its own charitable trust to assist where it can in such situations – see www.thesherbetfoundation.com.

  82. If necessary, the enforcement agent will advise the creditor if further action is appropriate. The exercise of appropriate discretion is needed, not only to protect the debtor, but also the enforcement agent who should avoid taking action which could lead to accusations of inappropriate behaviour.

    This is part of a Shergroup enforcement agent’s training.

  83. Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 16 or is deemed to be vulnerable by the enforcement agent; they can ask when the debtor will be home - if appropriate.

    This is part of a Shergroup enforcement agent’s training and if we find such a situation we will report it to the creditor.

  84. Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.

    This is part of a Shergroup enforcement agent’s training and if we find such a situation we will report it to the creditor.

  85. A debtor may be considered vulnerable if, for reasons of age, health or disability they are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household.

    Our internal procedures ensure that once we identify a judgment debtor as “vulnerable” the enforcement of the Writ of Control follows a different workflow.

  86. The enforcement agent must be sure that the debtor or the person to whom they are entering into a controlled goods agreement understands the agreement and the consequences if the agreement is not complied with.

    This is part of standard training for a Shergroup enforcement agent.

  87. Enforcement agents should be aware that vulnerability may not be immediately obvious.

    Identifying genuine vulnerability is a skill that enforcement agents develop.

  88. Some groups who might be vulnerable are listed below. However, this list is not exhaustive. Care should be taken to assess each situation on a case by case basis.

    • the elderly;

    • people with a disability;

    • the seriously ill;

    • the recently bereaved;

    • single parent families;

    • pregnant women;

    • unemployed people; and,

    • those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English.

    Also people in these situations are easy to spot as potentially vulnerable but many are not. However we are also looking for people who may not show classic signs of vulnerability but who instead are suffering from mental health issues which need to be considered and acted upon.

  89. Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing interpretation services (including British Sign Language), when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.

    Shergroup enforcement agents have access to colleagues who speak several forms of Indian dialect in the form of Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati, Mayalam,

Summary

The entire Shergroup TEAM supports the National Standards and continues to work to develop its own internal procedures to exceed the standards that have been set through this voluntary code.

If you have any suggestions on how we can improve our standards of operation we would like to hear from you. Please email us at enquiries@shergroup.net or call to speak to us on 0845 890 9200.
 
 
 
 
 
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