The Lord Chancellor's Department has produced these National Standards for Enforcement Agents to share, build on and improve existing good practice and thereby to raise the level of professionalism across the whole sector. These standards are intended for use by all enforcement agents, public and private, the enforcement agencies 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 for the first time established a set of common standards to cover this activity. 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.
This guidance is the first document of its kind that will be sent on an individual basis to all certificated bailiffs and which has been so widely endorsed by the industry and by Government. The various trade associations, operating across the enforcement sector, make a valuable contribution in terms of raising standards, handling complaints and assisting their members. Membership is not obligatory but we strongly recommend that enforcement agents should join an appropriate organisation relevant to their sphere of activity. Enforcement is a difficult but essential task and those who operate in this field often face situations that require careful and sensitive handling. It is believed that the creditor and those carrying out enforcement share a duty to give particular consideration to vulnerable debtors or those who have special needs. Therefore, this document provides new guidance on some issues which may not be specifically covered in legislation, but which are relevant in a modern society.
Copies will be made widely available, including to the organisations listed below; in due course, it will be evaluated on its usefulness and to see how it may be further improved as we recognise that up-to-date guidance in this area is essential.
This national guidance does not replace local agreements, existing agency codes of practice or legislation; rather it sets out what the Department, those in the industry and some major users regard as minimum standards.
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. We are working on the recommendations from Professor Beatson's Independent Review of Bailiff Law informed by responses to the recent Green Paper Towards Effective Enforcement: A single piece of bailiff law and a regulatory enforcement structure. As part of that work, in advance of future legislative proposals, and with the support and involvement of experienced people within the profession, these National Standards have been produced. We are grateful for the invaluable assistance and endorsement received from:
The Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies
The Advisory Group on Enforcement Service Delivery
The Certificated Bailiffs Association
The Child Support Agency
The Civil Court Users Association
The Court Service
The Department for Transport, Local Government & the Regions
Her Majesty's Customs & Excise
The Inland Revenue
The Institute of Revenues, Rating & Valuation
The Local Authorities Civil Enforcement Forum
The Local Government Association
The Sheriffs' Officers' Association
The Under Sheriffs' Association
In this document we have used the following terms:
Creditor: for these standardswhich identify some responsibilities for creditors we include - a local authority, major or frequent judgment creditors in the civil courts, including Government Departments and magistrates' courts committees to whom financial penalties are paid (to the consolidated fund), and landlords undertaking distress for rent procedures.
Debtor: we mean 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.
Enforcement: in this document we mean the lawful process of warrant or writ execution, distraint and levying on goods.
Enforcement Agency: here we mean 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: we mean someone who is responsible for the enforcement of court orders against goods (warrants of distress and execution) or the person (arrest warrants); we include those employed in the public and private sector, bailiffs, sheriffs' officers and distrainors.
Papers copies, which can be reproduced locally, are available from Meeta Poojara on 020-7210 8654 or by e-mail to: Meeta Poojara
Enforcement agents should always produce relevant identification on request, such as a badge or ID card, together with a written authorisation to act on behalf of the creditor.
Enforcement agents must act within the law at all times, including all defined 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.
Enforcement agents, for the purpose of distress or execution shall, without the use of unlawful force, gain access to the goods. The enforcement agent will produce an inventory of the goods seized and leave it with the debtor, or at the premises, with any other documents that are required by regulations or statute.
Enforcement agents must carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner. They must dress appropriately and act with discretion and fairness.
Enforcement agents must not misrepresent their powers, qualifications, capacities, experience or abilities.
Enforcement agents must not discriminate unfairly on any grounds including those of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
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.
Enforcement agencies should ensure that audited accounts are available on request, where it is appropriate that these are kept. 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. This should apply in the case of small companies and sole traders too - wherever possible.
Enforcement agencies must comply with statutory obligations, for example, the Companies Act, Value Added Tax, Inland Revenue provisions, Data Protection, Health & Safety etc.
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.
Enforcement agencies must keep a complete record of all financial transactions in whatever capacity undertaken.
Enforcement agencies must maintain suitable and comprehensive insurance cover for both professional indemnity and other risks including employer's liability and public liability. Insurance requirements must actively be re-visited each year to the satisfaction of the client and to ensure adequate and appropriate arrangements are in place.
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, within the bounds of the relevant legislation. This training should be provided at the commencement of employment and at intervals afterwards to ensure that the agent's knowledge is kept up to date.
Enforcement agencies must ensure that all employees, contractors and agents will at all times act within the scope of current legislation, i.e. The Companies Act, VAT, Inland Revenue provisions, Data Protection, Health and Safety etc, and have an appropriate knowledge and understanding of it and be aware of any statutory obligations and provide relevant training.
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.
Professional training/assessment should be to an appropriate standard, for example to that of the NVQ for Civil Enforcement Officers, or membership of the Sheriffs' Officers Association.
Enforcement agencies must ensure that legislation restricting the enforcement activity to certificated bailiffs is complied with [Endnote 2].
Enforcement agencies must operate complaints and disciplinary procedures with which agents must be fully conversant.
The complaints procedure should be set out in plain English, have a main point of contact, set time limits for dealing with complaints and an independent appeal process where appropriate. A register should be maintained to record all complaints.
Enforcement agents/agencies are encouraged to make use of the complaints and disciplinary procedures of professional associations such as the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies or the Certificated Bailiffs Association.
The enforcement agent must make available details of the comments and complaints procedure on request or when circumstances indicate it would be appropriate to do so.
All notices, correspondence and documentation issued by the agent/agency must be clear and unambiguous and to the satisfaction of the creditor.
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 paid for by the creditor.
All information obtained during the administration and enforcement of warrants must be treated as confidential.
Copies of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents must be freely available from the offices of enforcement agencies, or agents on request and wherever possible from creditors.
Enforcement agents should provide clear and prompt information to debtors and where appropriate, creditors.
Enforcement agents should, so far as it is practical, avoid disclosing the purpose of their visit to anyone other than the debtor. Where the debtor is not seen, the relevant documents must be left at the address in a sealed envelope addressed to the debtor.
Enforcement agents will on each and every occasion when a visit is made to a debtor's property which incurs a fee for the debtor, leave a notice detailing the fees charged to date, including the one for that visit, and the fees which will be incurred if further action becomes necessary. If a written request is made an itemised account of fees will be provided.
Enforcement agents will clearly explain and give in writing, the consequences of the seizure of a debtor's goods and ensure that debtors are aware of the additional charges that will be incurred.
Enforcement should not be undertaken on Sundays, on Bank Holidays, on Good Friday or on Christmas Day, unless the court specifically orders otherwise or in situations where legislation permits it.
It is recommended that enforcement should only be carried out between the hours of 6.00am and 9.00pm or at any time during trading hours, existing legislation must be observed.
Enforcement agents should be respectful of the religion and culture of others at all times. They should be aware of the dates for religious festivals and carefully consider the appropriateness of undertaking enforcement on any day of religious or cultural observance or during any major religious or cultural festival.
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.
Enforcement agents must ensure that goods are handled with reasonable care so that they do not suffer any damage whilst in their possession and should have insurance in place for goods in transit so that if damage occurs this is covered by the policy.
Enforcement agents should not remove anything clearly identifiable as an item belonging to, or for the exclusive use of a child.
A receipt for the goods removed should be given to the debtor or left at the premises.
Enforcement agents should take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the value of the goods impounded in satisfaction of the judgement is proportional to the value of the debt and charges owed.
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 potential cause for concern. If necessary, the enforcement agent will advise the creditor iffurther 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.
Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18; they can ask when the debtor will be home - if appropriate.
Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.
Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing translation services when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.
Those who might be potentially vulnerable include:
In order for the enforcement process to work effectively, creditors must be fully aware of their own responsibilities. These 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 etc so that these are adequate, fair and appropriate for the work involved.
Creditors must not seek payment from an enforcement agent or enforcement agency in order to secure a contract.
Creditors must notify the enforcement agency of all payments received and other contacts with the debtor.
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.
Creditors must not request the suspension of a warrant or make direct payment arrangements with debtors without appropriate notification and payment of fees due to the enforcement agent.
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.
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.
|Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies
150 Regent Street
London W1R 5FA
|Tel: 020-7432 0366
Fax: 020-7432 0516
|The Executive Director
Certificated Bailiffs Association
14 John Dalton Street
Manchester M2 6JR
|Tel: 0161-839 7225
Fax: 0161-834 2433
|Institute of Revenues Ratings and Valuation
41 Doughty Street
London WC1N 2LF
|Tel: 020-7831 3505
Fax: 020-7831 2048
|Sheriffs' Officers' Association
West Yorkshire WF5 8AL
|Under Sheriffs' Association
20-21 Tooks Court
London EC4A 1LB
|Tel 020-7025 2550
Fax- 020-7025 2551
|Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum
Brighton & Hove City Council
PO Box 2929
Brighton BN1 1PS
Fax: 01273-291 881
Separate provisions regarding financial accounting and insurance may apply to public sector organisations who directly employ their own enforcement agents