The new ‘normal’
The last 15 months have seen a significant change in the way enforcement agents work – including a five month period when we were unable, through legislation, to work at all. For those of us with salaried enforcement agents, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) enabled us to maintain a comprehensive workforce on standby, ready to resume duties once legislation permitted.
Naturally, the industry has had to adopt new procedures to ensure the safety of staff, the individuals we deal with and members of the public generally. Throughout the various lockdowns, we developed specific routines and policies and initiated several new innovations for improved communications and engagement, the aim being to further reduce the need to attend.
We developed and delivered bespoke training for enforcement agents to safely resume visits. All staff, front line and back office, undertook vulnerability and mental health awareness refresher training and, working closely with clients, we adjusted various thresholds to take account of the likely financial impacts on those we deal with.
Resumption of visits
When, in August last year, we resumed doorstep activity, having issued reminders on all of the many thousands of accounts, we were pleasantly surprised at how we were received. We did not receive a single complaint from all the correspondence and were able, through this engagement, to identify genuine cases of hardship and provide appropriate assistance.
Enforcement agents reported being offered full payment in many instances when they were only seeking a resumption of a prior [failed] arrangement or to establish one. It seemed that due to the restrictions, there was general increase in disposable income.
From the data we collected in the past 9 months, less than half a percent of those we dealt with reported a financial impact from the pandemic and less than one tenth of one percent of attendances resulted in a complaint about the attendance.
The new normal
Now, with the lifting of remaining restrictions, despite what appears to be a third wave of infections, we intend to carry on as normal – the new normal – whereby we will continue to use PPE, observe social distancing, undertake dynamic risk assessments and carry out extensive hygiene measures, only entering domestic premises where it is both necessary and safe.
We will continue to be ultra-vigilant in identifying vulnerability and providing assistance through our welfare team. And, we will continue to develop innovative solutions to improve early engagement and recovery in what are still challenging times for everyone.