The coronavirus pandemic has heavily impacted the vast majority of businesses, but especially those that rely on public engagement.
Enforcement firms have faced unique challenges during this time and have been required to adapt flexibly to ensure safety and success. From the five-month ban on visits during the summer of 2020 to the implementation of industry-wide PPE equipment and training, it has been a period of change, but also stability and reassurance.
At Bristow & Sutor, we undertook a massive mobilisation exercise in the summer to help staff work from home during the first lockdown and rolled out a brand-new contact centre. Because we invested in innovative technology systems and software development, we were able to remain fully operational. Debtors and clients continued to contact us easily through portals, apps, emails, telephone lines and debt recovery tools.
Training and technology
All of Bristow & Sutors’ Enforcement Agent (EA) staff were furloughed during the first lockdown but continued to receive training and certification, meaning they were ready to work again as soon as visits were permitted to resume at the end of August. This was of huge benefit to local authorities who could not afford a further backlog of cases when income is vital to funding essential local services.
There has arguably never been a more important time for councils to conduct enforcement activity than right now, to help fill the holes left by the loss of revenue streams and address budget shortfalls. It became clear quite early on that a prolonged curtailment of enforcement would have a big effect on council income and create an unnecessary backlog.
Technology and transformation had already become instrumental to our service offering long before the pandemic, but it has certainly helped throughout this time. The goal of introducing a dedicated WhatsApp channel, for example, was to facilitate meaningful and informative conversations when debtors are the initiator of message-based dialogue. To read more on our use of technology, visit our website.
The public response
A unified and collective approach called the Post-Lockdown Support Plan was devised by CIVEA and rolled out to all enforcement firms last year, which made it possible for visits to resume safely and securely. PPE has been introduced to every member of staff in 2020 and to ensure this equipment was used effectively, every EA is now required to pass training on correct usage before they may conduct visits.
Many members of the public welcomed our return to visits and the opportunity to settle outstanding debts, showing genuine appreciation for the measures we were taking to keep them safe. That said, the fair treatment and support of the vulnerable remains our fundamental priority and we recognise identifying this is more important now than ever before. The reality of the coronavirus is that cases of vulnerability and financial hardship will continue to affect people in 2021 and beyond.
Bristow and Sutor have expanded its social value and customer welfare offering with several new appointments within the business now working exclusively in this area. EAs continue to signpost vulnerable debtors to helpful advice and withdraw from the doorstep as soon as a case of vulnerability or coronavirus shielding is identified.
Safety first, always
The protocols EAs are taking when conducting visits is exceeding the safety measures followed by many other industries that continue to visit domestic properties. It has been stipulated that EAs should not enter domestic properties during this time. This approach has been successful in protecting staff and the public, with the Ministry of Justice advising that despite renewed lockdown restrictions, enforcement visits were safe to continue from the doorstep. This remains the case now with ongoing confidence shown by the government in the continuation of enforcement activity.
Bristow & Sutor has gone even further to reassure clients, staff and the public by recently obtained NQA COVID Secure Verification accreditation. This is an independent review that provides assurance that measures being taken successfully mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 per government guidelines. Whilst safety procedures continue to evolve, how enforcement firms should support debtors has remained the same. We were already doing things in the right way before the coronavirus pandemic ensued and by simply adapting proven approaches, we have remained focused on our mission to provide an ethical, compliant and high-quality service to the public and private sectors.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about the YPO Enforcement Agency Services framework then please get in touch.