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The Credit Services Association (CSA)
Blog: H&F Ethical Debt Collection: How private sector regulatory standards can be applied to public sector collections
Eddie Nott is a Credit Services Association (CSA) Board Director and CEO of 1st Credit which has launched a joint venture with Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Michael Hainge of Hammersmith & Fulham Council delivered a session on how private sector regulatory standards can be applied to public sector collections at the UK Credit & Collections Conference 2017.
Local authority debt collection practices unsustainable
Debts owed to local authorities in the UK have reached an eye-watering level. Uncollected business rates and council tax alone were reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to have reached £4bn at 31 March 2016. Unpaid parking fines, outstanding charges for social care and sundry debts add considerably to this figure.
At the same time, central government’s continued policy of austerity is making the financial position for local authorities unsustainable. The consequences of poor debt collection practices adversely affect public sector budgets. Costs of temporary accommodation, increased demand on temporary housing, health, education and social services resulting from poor debt management put a strain on the public purse.
A revolutionary public-private joint ethical debt collection venture
1st Credit Limited and Hammersmith & Fulham Council have joined forces to launch a revolutionary public-private joint venture, H&F Ethical Debt Collections. The partnership changes the way public sector debts are handled, ending the two-tier treatment of customers in debt by applying Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) standards to public as well as private sector debt collection.
Those with public sector debts too often experience poor customer treatment and high levels of court action. This service is unique in the public sector and by bringing together 1st Credit’s regulated, data-led expertise with Hammersmith & Fulham’s knowledge and understanding of the public sector, our mission is to help other councils improve their financial position, look after their residents better and avoid increased service demands.
Private sector expertise…
Established in 2001, 1st Credit, part of the Intrum Justitia Group, is one of the UK’s most experienced and ethical debt recovery businesses. It has handled accounts for more than 7 million customers, and debt with a face value of nearly £6bn.
Treating customers sympathetically and fairly, including identifying and dealing with vulnerability, is an integral aspect of our business, resulting in low payment break rates and a Net Promotor Score of +44 from Investors in Customers. Our accuracy rate in predicting collections has been in excess of 99% over the last four years and we have strong analytical capabilities. Our dynamic account strategy shows a clear link between activity and collections, using intelligent account prioritisation.
When it comes to compliance we are market-leading and we uphold a culture of staff development and an ethical approach. In terms of technology, our proprietary host platform ‘CreditSolve®’ allows us the flexibility and scalability to implement collection strategies specific to individual debt types as well as ensuring the security of our data. Skills-based routing ensures customers always speak to the right person. We use voice analytics and customer surveys to ensure the appropriate outcome is achieved every time.
…combined with public sector experience
The benefit of the partnership between 1st Credit and Hammersmith & Fulham is that we are able to combine all of our expertise with their experience and understanding of the needs of residents in dealing with their local authority.
Debt collection for local authorities is part of a bigger picture of supporting central government and supporting communities, which can be a difficult balancing act. As Michael Hainge of Hammersmith & Fulham Council says: “There is no point in aggressively pursuing people because if, for example, the consequences of that pursuit mean they become homeless, we’ve then got a responsibility to house them – and that costs the council money. If you make someone homeless, and they have children, there’s an increased risk of the children entering the care system. Not only is that a blight on their life chances, but we will end up having to pay for every child we’ve got in care so it makes no financial sense for anyone.”
As a partnership, we are able to offer a number of solutions to other local authorities, including:
- Complete Outsource: by outsourcing debts from the moment they become overdue councils can benefit from the full suite of recoveries solutions that we offer. Such solutions can be ‘white-labelled’, meaning all communication and engagement with customers is in the name of the local authority. This means the council retains control and the relationship with the customer, whilst still taking advantage of the array of recovery tools and treatments.
- Complimentary Services: our services can be used to complement a council’s current approach with the aim of driving increased engagement, earlier collections and improved data/MI.
- Consultancy: our knowledgeable and experienced team will undertake a Business Needs Analysis which is fundamental to ascertain the current level of sophistication, compliance, technology, skills and behaviours, and strategy application. This aids the preparation of a Transformational Programme designed to provide councils with the tools needed to deliver an effective result.
- Training: we have developed a suite of training modules designed to not only improve the functional aspects of debt recovery within local authorities, but to also introduce private sector best practice. These modules involve a combination of classroom and in situ/on the job training but can also be supported by ongoing consulting and technical support where appropriate.
- Debt Prevention: H&F Ethical Collections’ robust feedback loop informs clients where evidence suggests debts have arisen due to process or data issues in the early stages of collections or within account initiation. This linkage of collection output data to front end processes will help reduce debt levels as a result of erroneous data such as incorrect or missing contact information, outdated trading status or customer profile, outstanding disputes or general process inefficiencies. In addition, debt prevention is achieved upon customer contact by having a concerted campaign to convert customers to Direct Debit where currently other, less controlled, payment methods exist. This process may help residents achieve longer-term credit repair and prevent issues associated with high cost lending (‘payday’).
We hope that this joint venture will revolutionise local authority debt collection and event form a blue print for private-public partnerships in other sectors.