The New Alternative to PCOL

An interesting meeting at the Ministry of Justice was held to review the online claims procedure and in particular the PCOL system.

Background

The Government website states “Government Digital Strategy and Departmental Digital Strategies commit us to the redesigning and rebuilding of 25 significant ‘exemplar’ services. We’re going to make them simpler, clearer and faster to use. All these are to meet the Digital By Default Service Standard by April 2014 and be completed by March 2015.

The 22nd exemplar in the transformation process is civil claims. Further information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/transformation/court-claims.

Discussion Group

The purpose of the discussion group was for members to provide information in respect of users requirements of PCOL so a completely new system can be produced rather than an improvement to the existing one. It appears at present that courts are still reliant on papers files as the current functionality of the system means a large proportion of contact with the court is still via paper and telephone calls.

It was interesting to hear the views of others on how the system could be improved and in particular the need to eradicate the use of paper claims. Currently PCOL is limited in its function and therefore a new system will need to be able to deal with a variety of scenarios such as deceased and term expired possession claims.

Another interesting feature discussed was the possibility of adding a Title Number to the property address details to assist with identification of the property which would be of use in respect of properties with garages or additional land.

Going forward

The meeting really showed how much needs to be discussed, as the allotted time passed so quickly, but hopefully further discussions will be held to ensure the success of the new system.

Further feedback from members on any functions they would like to have available on the system would be beneficial to all concerned and ensure the CCUA is at the forefront of promoting a user friendly, time saving, modern claims system.

Now time for summer hols and sunshine (I hope!).

Author – Christine Power FCILEx – specialising in Debt Recovery at Lightfoots LLP

 

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Is the economic cake now rising?

Signs of recovery

We all know what happens when you bake a cake with plain flour and forget to put the baking powder into it. It comes out rather flat, leaden and unappetising.

Just like our economy over the past few years. However, I’m beginning to see signs of recovery, are you?  Confidence is to the economy what baking powder is to cakes.  It’s the tiniest ingredient, but absolutely essential for success.

Rising figures

I noted recently that the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ June figures show that lending was up a huge 26% on the same month in 2012.  The quantity of goods sold at retail level is up 2.2% to June (ONS), small yet significant if sustained across the whole sector. So it looks hopeful.

At Lovetts, we’ve seen more companies prepared to ‘get tough’ with their customers, with our July Claims showing the strongest month since mid 2011. This makes me think that companies are more confident in their own future, and that they can safely take legal action against their customers, without that ‘fear’ of finding themselves bereft of business.

‘Fear’ and ‘confidence’ are probably more significant in business than anything else.  It is easy to blame the banks and rightly so. Even today’s headlines show that the cost of putting right the PPI scandal is over £18 billion, twice the entire cost of the Olympic Games!  But even without bank support for business, confidence can lead to winning ways.

It is the same in Credit control.  How confident is the CEO in getting future business, so he/she will allow the FD and credit manager to go strong on recovering outstanding funds?  More confident now, it seems to me.

Beware…

But beware – companies, particularly SMEs, are prone to struggle for cash as they start growing again.  Most small businesses underestimate the liquidity required for even single figure % growth in Sales. So they’ll hold onto the creditor’s money for longer, particularly as their banks will not yet have loosened their lending strings.

So the cake is cooking nicely we trust, but none of us can afford to take our eyes off ledger overdues lest we get our fingers burnt just when things look more positive.

Author: Charles Wilson, CEO of Lovetts plc, Debt recovery solicitors

Hitting a moving target?

Last night, tennis commentators were saying that yesterday was one of the most extraordinary days in Wimbledon history.

An unprecedented number of top stars dropped out of the tournament, either through injury or through unforeseen loss to a much lower-ranked opponent.  Federer, Sharapova, Tsonga, Azarenka, Cilic, Isner all went home.

Coincidentally, I was asking my legal claims manager at Lovetts to complete the online survey about HMCTS service levels which all CCUA members have just received from chairman Brian Havercroft.  (I shall be analysing the results in July for the CCUA as a follow-on from my speech at last year’s Annual Conference).

What is the connection between Wimbledon and the CCUA?

Well, it’s this.  As I’ve talked with my managers recently, it is clear that the problems in the Court Service are changing all the time. Like tennis balls. So too is our feedback to HMCTS, it’s a moving target.

It takes repeated effort to obtain it, and then feed it back to senior Court staff. And they’re asking for it…if you know what I mean. For instance, last year, our CCUA and CCBC members scored our local courts as relatively high for competence, helpfulness and response.

I suspect this year, our views may be different.  Resourcing for local courts is patchy, and delays and mistakes are, in Lovetts experience, more rife than ever before.  How sad, when you think how dedicated the local court staff have been over so many years.

The huge performance difference between courts

Two weeks ago, I was shown a report produced by HMCTS South-Eastern region at a CCUA meeting.  It showed that some local courts in the South-East were performing very badly compared to others.

The exact timescales for handling claims in top and bottom performing courts were shown. Thus, a small claim in Brighton in 2012-13 typically took 25 weeks from Claim to Hearing.  A small claim in Reigate (a few miles up the A23 from Brighton) took 44 weeks.

That is a staggering 19 weeks difference, or 4.5 months longer to get a case heard and resolved.

Let’s keep feeding back

Wimbledon stars are knocked out when they cannot hit the moving target of a small yellow ball.

If we don’t keep feeding back to HMCTS – through CCUA – the detail of what is happening in our Courts, then that moving target will not be hit, and we’ll be in danger of being knocked out of the tournament. Bluntly, our debtors may, by then, be bust.

Author: Charles Wilson, CEO of Lovetts plc, Debt recovery solicitors

£600 – arbitrary and irrelevant

When the High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction Order was brought in in 1991, it set a clear distinction between the jurisdiction of County Court Bailiffs (CCBs) and High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs), with CCBs enforcing judgments up to the value of £5,000, and HCEOs who could only enforce judgments of £2,000 and above.

A constraint with no relevance

While the £5,000 upper limit for CCBs has remained, the lower limit for HCEOs has steadily come down and now stands at just £600. Even judgments below that amount can be enforced by an HCEO if court fees take it over the £600 mark.

In my opinion this constraint no longer has any relevance: it is such a low amount and prevents many claimants from accessing the many advantages of using an HCEO.

Over-stretched and under-resourced

I regularly hear complaints from claimants that CCBs were either unable to recover their debt, or did not have the capacity to attend promptly. They are definitely over-stretched and under-resourced, often through no fault of their own.

Yet when these claimants instruct an HCEO as a next step (providing the judgment is for £600 or more), many have been pleasantly surprised to find that their case was, after all, enforceable, when a different approach was taken.

HCEOs do have several advantages, most notably they are private sector businesses paid only on results, not salaried civil servants. They can also force entry to commercial premises and tend to work beyond regular office hours, so they can reach more judgment debtors at home.

Removing of the lower limit

I would strongly suggest that the £600 minimum should be removed completely, allowing HCEOs to enforce judgments regardless of value.

I do acknowledge that the charging structure may need to differ for sub £600 judgments, to ensure they are proportional to the original debt, but I believe that the jurisdiction order is creating an artificial and now irrelevant barrier. It is time to give claimants access to a more results-oriented enforcement agent.

Author: David W. Carter, Joint Managing Director – The Sheriffs Office

Salford Business Centre – The Highs and (more often that not!) the Lows

I thought that this month would be good time for a review of the Salford Business Centre as myself and my colleagues are continuing to experience problems with the service provided.

Unfortunately this would indicate no improvement has been made in respect of the service they provide despite the hard work of Brian Havercroft and the CCUA team which is somewhat disheartening.

A few incidents

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Salford and maybe improvements have been made but from where I’m sitting, I have yet to find them.

l’ll start with a few incidents that have occurred in our office over the last couple of months:

  • Two requests for judgment sent in respect of two defendants. Only one Judgment Order received, so we chased to see if the second judgment request had been dealt with. In response we received a further copy of the Judgment Order we already had and a letter with no reference to our query.
  • Request for judgment in respect of the first Defendant sent on 20 March 2013 and chased up on two occasions in April.  Received a response from Wakefield County Court on 7 May 2013 to advise judgment has not been entered in respect of the first Defendant. It appears Salford sent our letters chasing for the Judgment Order to Wakefield as the case had been transferred out for enforcement in respect of the second Defendant. Letter of complaint sent to Salford 10 May 2013.
  • Judgment in default entered and application for Charging Order made. Subsequently received a Varied Order as it appears an admission form was received by them and not dealt with appropriately.

I’m sure the above examples are not isolated incidents but look forward to being corrected if they are.

The next step

However, moving on, the next step is to look at how the service can be improved and how we can assist with this process. Is further training required? Do they need more staff? Is the process of work allocation flawed?

One idea we came up with in our office was that it would be really useful if any correspondence could be logged on their system as soon as they receive it to ensure actions are carried out in chronological order.

At least then if we need to call them, they could inform us if they have received the relevant document and we can continue with action accordingly.

And on a positive note…

To finish on a positive note and to show light at the end of the tunnel, I have one example of very good service. A  Judgment Order was received whereby the defendant’s name was spelled incorrectly.

A telephone call was made to the Business Centre to inform them of this and two days later we received a informing us the incorrect spelling had been amended.

Maybe in a few months time, we can write a list of positive comments!

Author – Christine Power FCILEx – specialising in Debt Recovery at Lightfoots LLP

Update on Directive 2011/7/EU – Combating Late Payment in Commercial Transactions

The Directive

The Directive has been designed ‘to combat the culture of late payments in commercial transactions..’, however, it also indicates that companies should undertake their own checks to ensure customers are in a position to make payment and furthermore, protect themselves by preparing accurate and timely invoices.

The Consultation Process

The Department for Business, innovation and Skills (BIS) prepared and distributed a consultation which asked for views on four main areas. This resulted in 80 responses from individuals, businesses and their representatives which BIS advise was ‘satisfactory’ number for a consultation of this type.

Outcome

The Government response to the consultation has been published by BIS with the results as follows:

  • Public sector payment terms will remain at the current 30 day payment period.
  • The directive will be implemented by amending the existing Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 rather than repealing and replacing it.
  • The three tiered approach to compensation on debts will remain. (£40, £70 or £100 can be claimed dependant on the size of the debt).
  • Any contract concluded before 16 March 2013 will be not be subject to the Directive.

Additional Information

Further questions were posed on the consultation to assess the impact of late payment and in particular where this may impact on the survival of a business. It appears from the responses received indicate that reduced cash flow leads to a lack of investment and in turn, results in increased borrowing.

Credit agencies reported that many small businesses were not aware of the Late Payment Interest Act and therefore were not claiming this. Once they became aware of the provisions of the act they started to use it.

Views from small businesses indicated that they are spending time chasing debts which could lead to a loss of profit as this is time that could be spent generating business.

Time for Change!

The changes will come into effect on 16 March 2013, but please note they will only affect contracts concluded after this date.

Written by Christine Power – Chartered Legal Executive

A review of debt recovery procedure in light of changes in the economic climate and the court system

In the past…

A responsible individual or company seeking to recover overdue monies, would no doubt, be minded to instruct a local firm of solicitors with a good Debt Recovery reputation. As we will see below, there is no reason for this to have changed.

Clients naturally want to recover the sums due to them in a timely fashion and if possible, with as little outlay as possible. However is this still possible bearing in mind the economic climate and the change to the way claims are issued?

In the past once a debt recovery instruction was received, the procedure would be;

  • input instruction on case management system
  • letter before claim sent to debtor
  • if no response received, issue court proceedings

The claim form would be drafted and sent to the local court and if a last minute payment was made by the debtor later that day or the following morning, a quick call to the court would usually stop the claim being issued. If proceedings were issued, the Defendant may make contact to discuss the matter further or if no contact was made, judgment would be entered in default.

A suitable enforcement option would then be recommended and put into action and sometimes multiple enforcement methods would be used over time, if necessary.

Know your debtor

In the currently economic climate, debtors are less able to pay and on top of this, changes to the court system are causing delays with the claims procedure. Every debt recovery seminar or course will start with the phrase “manage your client’s expectations”. This is of paramount importance as we do not wish it to appear as though they are spending good money after bad with the possibility of no return.

To live up to our clients high expectations we must ensure we have been provided with as much information as possible in respect of the debt. As well as the usual information such as name, address and debt amount, further information is valuable.

Such information can include; has contact been made with the debtor in respect of the sums due? Is the relationship a long standing one? Do they have any information in respect of the debtors circumstances?

Getting started

The first step and maybe now the most important one is to prepare a clear, concise, informative letter before claim setting out clearly the information required under the Civil Procedure Rules. Getting a response to this letter is crucial to ascertain the debtors attitude to the debt and any information gleaned will assist us provide the client with suggestions as how best to proceed.

The issue of court proceedings is no longer dealt with at the local court with all claims being sent to Salford Business Centre.  At time of writing, Salford Business Centre is causing delays with the issue of claims and judgment orders. Upon calling the centre for updates or clarification, the staff do not appear to have any further information.

For us this is frustrating, however we must ensure our clients are aware of these problems should we encounter them and trust they will bear with us. The Civil Court Users Association is actively seeking improvement in the service and things can only get better with their involvement and input.

One of the main causes of upset for a creditor is, having obtained judgment, finding their choice of enforcement has not been successful despite them having spent more money.  Although some clients continue with action, regardless of whether or not the sums will be recovered, most clients want (and often need) to have the debt paid.

Statistics

The Ministry of Justice, Court Statistics for the first quarter of 2012 show that 10% fewer cases were issued than in the first quarter of 2011. This continues the downward trend from the peak in 2006. Enforcement has also decreased by 10% on the same period the previous year and they note the number is half the applications received in the first quarter of 2008.

In conclusion

In conclusion it would appear that the old debt recovery adages are still true namely ‘manage your clients expectations’ and ‘know your debtor’. Expectations are high from our Clients, therefore we must work closely with them so they may help us to help them. Debt Recovery actions are always most successful when action is taken swiftly and we can pre-empt any potential problems.

Also, as the statistics show fewer claims are being issued, a more effective letter before claim and the right level of experience in negotiations may ensure that a claim is now really only issued as a last resort.

Author – Christine Power is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in debt recovery.