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Treating customers fairly in debt enforcement

Richard Anderson
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With our responsibility for recovering debt for over 200 local authorities across the UK, we know how seriously the fair treatment of citizens is taken.

Treating citizens fairly, or customers as we refer to them, does not necessarily mean treating them all the same way, however.

A good collection and enforcement firm assesses each customers’ individual circumstances and is alive to signs of vulnerability such as mental illness or financial difficulty. One of our biggest investments is in training to equip our team with the means to assess a situation and respond accordingly.

Enforcement firms also need to set out what they consider to be fair outcomes for different groups of customers and establish a clear approach how these outcomes are delivered effectively.

A customer who won’t pay has the means to pay but not the propensity. Typically the customer has put their head in the sand, either out of principle, carelessness or poor financial management.

A good enforcement process for this group of customers will provide clear and timely information and open lines of communication to minimise the financial and emotional costs for the customer.

A customer who can’t pay simply does not have the means to pay. Commercially it does not make sense to apply the same treatment as to the won’t-pay group. Reputationally, it makes even less sense.

A good enforcement process for the can’t-pay group will be attuned to spotting these customers signposting them to free debt advice, understanding the customers individual circumstances and applying the optimum treatment. This may be breathing space, different forms of communication, affordable repayment plans, or in some cases halting enforcement activity.

Of course there are many different groups of customers and the business must take the time to identify these groups and take them on the right journey.

At Marston, we take reputational risk as seriously as our local authority clients do. Enforcement involves a lot of human interaction, often face to face where quick judgments need to be made.

A good enforcement firm will implement a programme of testing to help fine-tune its conduct risk framework. Waiting to find out where problems arise is like waiting until you catch flu before you get a flu jab.

Prevention is always better than cure.

Richard Anderson, group legal and compliance director, Marston Holdings

Column sponsored and supplied by Marston Holdings

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Marston Holdings

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