In response to speculation that enforcement activity will continue during the COVID-19 crisis, CIVEA has written to Ministers as Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, explains:
“We have worked closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that people are protected during the coronavirus crisis. Despite the false information circulated by debt advice charities, enforcement agents are not enforcing debts. Many agents are working with the NHS to support the voluntary initiative and many firms have changed the use of their fleet vehicles to support deliveries of supplies. Where people are being contacted it is to extend payment plans or offer payment holidays. Our letter to the minister reads:
COVID-19: Suspension of enforcement activity
We have been in close contact with Ministry of Justice officials as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed. This letter is to update you on the current situation regarding civil enforcement activity.
Along with many other activities public debt collection is rapidly being scaled back. In order to reduce the burden on families many local authorities are suspending or significantly reducing debt collection services.
In order to protect staff and the public, CIVEA has provided best practice guidance to all our members. This has been discussed with Ministry of Justice officials and development in conjunction with the available government advice. I attach a copy for your information.
In the last week, since the CIVEA guidance was published and government advice updated, there has been a complete suspension of enforcement visits, whether to recover unpaid court fines, penalty charge notices, council tax or non-domestic business rates. Where a skeleton staff continues to operate remotely, local authorities have requested that a Iight-touch communication is maintained. This is primarily identifying vulnerable people and offering extensions to repayment plans and payment holidays.
Where agents and contact centre staff have been furloughed, firms are allowing staff to volunteer to support the NHS voluntary initiative. In many cases, firms have registered fleet vehicles for change of use to be used by volunteers.
Looking ahead, with the suspension of court proceedings there are no new warrants and court orders being issued. We anticipate a back log that will need to be processed. While enforcement activity is suspended, unlike other services, it will be several months before the civil enforcement system is fully back online.
In the meantime, CIVEA and its members will continue to keep in close contact with officials to ensure that they continue to support the courts system.
I am copying this letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.