Recovering amounts owed to taxpayers is a vital public services function, and the enforcement industry recovers the equivalent of 30,000 nurses’ salaries each year. This public good has in the past been obscured by reputational issues related to enforcement (stemming from lack of regulation and common standards). This changed last April when the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act regulations were introduced.
Early indications are that the new regulations have been positive for our customers (debtors), although we recognise that the enforcement industry must continue to develop public confidence. Building two-way relationships with clients, customers and the advice sector is the way to empower them and us to support vulnerable customers, and to deliver a professional service.
I joined Marston Holdings in December 2013, as part of its drive to raise standards by embedding a strongly ethical enforcement culture. Marston’s commitment had been demonstrated by a £5m investment in initiatives such as a Samaritan-trained Welfare Support Team, regular ethical audits, an Ethics Committee and an independent Advisory Group.
Developing our new Enforcement Agent Development Programme has been a particularly rewarding challenge for me. Marston campaigned for many years for the introduction of regulations to improve transparency — including clear fee schedules — and to mandate support for vulnerable customers and training of enforcement agents to proscribed standards.
After those regulations were introduced, we enlisted the support of the Royal College of Psychiatrists to help devise our Vulnerability Training Programme so that we’re following best practice in terms of treating customers fairly and sensitively where needed.
We recently held a workshop with clients to look at practical ways of defining and recognising vulnerability. It included a session with Jamiee Abbott, our Welfare Team Leader, who established the Welfare Department in recognition of customers’ need for support, and her team has since successfully handled hundreds of vulnerability cases.
Jamiee’s unique perspective enables her to give clients a real sense of the issues customers, enforcement agents and her team face on a daily basis. Best of all, being the largest enforcement group means that where we lead, others will follow. A competitor has already set up a vulnerability team, and we hope to encourage more to follow suit.
We have also developed a toolkit to address some of the common questions support organisations have about enforcement. It’s through exercises like this that we’re delivering a better, more professional service to customers. We’ll continue to drive up standards in the enforcement industry, but if you have any suggestions for how else Marston can help, please do get in touch!
Deborah previously worked for the National Crime Agency and at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where she oversaw the training of the Afghan Counter Narcotics Police. Deborah leads a team of in-house practitioner trainers who run programmes for all our staff, including the Vulnerability Training Development Programme. This programme was created in collaboration with the Royal College of Psychiatrists.