Our CEO, Claire Sandbrook, comments on the Ministry of Justice’s recent Review of its 2014 reforms on enforcement in today’s blog:

“High Court Enforcement is a Government success!  The Government through an extensive consultative process created the term “High Court Enforcement Officer” in its 2004 Regulations.  Sheriffs in the English civil law was consigned to history.   Although I have noted that the lovely old term still crops up even by judges who need something done by an HCEO!

Here at Shergroup we are veterans at responding to Government consultations, and it is right that the Government should review the impact of further reforms introduced in 2014 to enable Schedule 12 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.  The 2007 guiding statute was introduced rather quickly by Parliament when the TV show “Whistleblower” hit the TV screens and showed bailiffs clambering through first floor windows via a ladder to gain entry.  It was not a great moment in enforcement history.   But it did show the behaviour of some bailiffs.  Faced with this evidence (which I think was verifiable by the TV crew filming it there and then) the Government had to take steps to curb poor behaviour.  It took nearly 7 years to work out the detail in the form of the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and the accompanying Regulation on fees.  The legislation also mopped up the situation on distress for rent for commercial landlords by introducing the CRAR procedure.

So, this year the Government has pushed on with its review of its reforms to enforcement by introducing an online consultation document.  On the face of it, this seems simple enough.  However, in answering the questions, I found them to be loaded towards the alleged poor behaviour of bailiffs, which I do not support, and you can see my response on the attached graphic.  We need to stop the knee-jerk reaction to anecdotal stories about bailiffs and get to the facts, and the data.

When I sat on the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Group for Enforcement Service Delivery, back in 2000, we had one expert on the panel who was a leading professor at the London School of Economics.  Lord Desai’s biggest issue in all that we discussed about enforcement services was the lack of data.  It was just a missing chunk out of a very complex debate.  Twenty years on the consultation document asks for statistics from respondents.  The Ministry of Justice has not led the way on this issue, even after having been told data was necessary to make informed decisions.  HCEO’s and HMCTS compile statistics for quarterly activity, but where is the data on vulnerability, assaults on bailiffs, and complaint handling?  The fact is the Government doesn’t have any of these areas covered, or if it does, it doesn’t have that data from the private bailiff industry.  Instead, it asks the enforcement industry to submit its own figures in this online review document.

In my humble view I don’t think that’s good enough.  The Ministry of Justice should have got a handle on this a long time ago.  It could have created a framework for statistics, which were verifiable and as accurate as they can be.  This would have enabled statistics from the debtor side of enforcement service delivery to be put in context.  All sorts of statistics are going to be returned to Government as a result of this review and it will mean data is compared like apples to oranges.

Data on performance should create a level playing field from all sides of the enforcement debate to fine tune a model for delivery which is as risk-free as possible, given the inherent difficulties in the job of enforcing an order or judgment.

Ultimately when a report comes out on the progress of the enforcement industry it should contain statistics on:

  • Volumes of instruction – and categorized outcomes
  • Vulnerability issues – categorized – and support enforcement agents to signpost follow up services
  • Cash Collected from all this enforcement activity
  • Reasons why enforcement doesn’t result in payment – categorized
  • Diversity – the enforcement industry needs to be diverse in its population of agents and support teams
  • Assaults on enforcement agents
  • Delay in enforcement services – for example, which county court is taking 16 weeks to enforce a Writ of Possession?
  • Complaints – categorized and outcomes
  • Numbers of certificates issued by enforcement agents – and decisions to remove licenses

If we could see data at this sort of level being created in a Government framework we may be able to understand where to strengthen Regulations or Standards to improve the entire enforcement industry.  On many aspects, we are moving in the right direction, but we need more input from Government and the budget should be found to support this.

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