Corporate social responsibility has been a term used by businesses in every sector for many years, but social value intends to better represent modern holistic thinking. It considers how businesses can positively impact a local community as part of usual working practice.
In enforcement, this can seem inherently contradictory. How can an Enforcement Agent (EA) contribute to social value without losing the aurora that often encourages debtors to pay? In actuality, enforcement agencies are uniquely placed to benefit communities in real and meaningful ways.
The way in which a business operates has a significant impact on local and national communities. It is essential that firms in the enforcement industry consider this and give thought to how clients, staff and members of the public are affected by the work that they do.
It should be recognised that social value is a prominent requirement when enforcement firms compete for new business. This is a good idea as it ensures the winning pitch is committed to a number of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that will facilitate this way of thinking. Businesses must remain on top of these agreements or risk losing the contract in future, but it would be naive to think that this completely rules out the possibility that interventions are perceived as box-ticking. It is our responsibility to look in greater detail and what will truly have a positive impact in each and every community.
Role and process
EAs are regularly in contact with the most marginalised individuals and are ideally placed to help deliver the services that will make a difference. In many cases, engaging with an enforcement agent is the push that an individual needs to seek help. This unique placement is where good intentions can become positive interventions and embodies the impact that can be made. If social value is truly present in all approaches, change will be achieved in the community and for individuals who are in need of help.
Of course, enforcement is often seen as a traumatic process that rightly should only be used as the last resort. But it remains true that if breaking the rules has no consequences, they’re not rules at all. It would be unfair to expect councils to find the resources needed to visit every resident in person but that is where working close with enforcement personnel can be useful. EAs can pass on key messages of support and even feedback responses and findings that will help local authorities shape how they engage in future.
Firm but fair
Enforcement businesses have an invaluable role to play in identifying those debtors who can’t pay as opposed to those who won’t pay and need to have robust processes to deal with both. Those who cannot pay need to be supported, but that doesn’t always mean writing off their debt. Everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute to their community, but creating an exclusion is unlikely to address the issues someone is facing and improve the situation.
Wilful non-payers need to be held to account but also educated on why their contribution is essential for their community. There is a disconnect for many between costs and what that means to them as an individual and the wider neighbourhood. Providing a clear link between the two is essential to changing these perceptions and encouraging a view that this is part of a worthy and helpful project instead of an unwanted financial burden.
Partnerships with debt advice providers and other support organisations, such as mental health support, is essential to implement structured referral processes and enable access to support. Approaching enforcement in this way has a positive effect on collection rates and also shows the wider commitment that each party involved has towards the community.
I was recently appointed to the Money Advice Liaison Group’s Northwest Committee and take part in regular forums, which have been an excellent source of information and thoughts. This has also allowed us to discuss important needs for vulnerable debtors and look at ourselves in the process, considering whether the approach the industry makes towards communication in this instance is as refined and successful as it can possibly be.
Open channels of communication are already integral, so taking this a step further and building even stronger links between councils and debt advice professionals seems a logical way forward. We are uniquely placed to help facilitate these connections and it is our duty as enforcement specialists and members of the community to do so, always keeping he impact this will have on a person’s circumstances at the forefront of our minds.
If you have any other questions or would like to know more about the Enforcement Agency Services Dynamic Purchasing System available through YPO, please get in touch with the team.