Hammersmith & Fulham Council and debt purchaser 1st Credit have this week (July 3) launched their joint venture, H&F Ethical Debt Collections.
The venture aims to cut the use of bailiffs by public sector bodies, by ending the two-tier treatment of debtors by applying Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) standards to public as well as private sector debts.
H&F Ethical Debt Collections said those with public sector debts too often experience poor customer treatment and high levels of court action.
It said it’s committed to reducing the use of bailiffs which often exacerbates hardship for individuals and places greater burden on the public purse.
The joint venture will now roll out its services to other local government organisations and has already started taking over Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s collections, beginning with former tenant arrears and housing benefit overpayments.
Other debt types will follow on a phased basis, with council departments given the power to decide how and when to use the services, sharing their insights and expertise.
As well as debt recovery and commercial aims, the joint venture will help residents avoid debt by identifying individuals at risk of falling into financial difficulty and working with them to avoid that.
Max Schmid, Cabinet Member for finance at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said: “Pursuing people aggressively is both damaging and counter-productive. The consequences of bad debt collection can be devastating to the wellbeing of residents.
“There is a huge gulf between best practice in the private sector and normal practice in the public sector and we are determined that Hammersmith & Fulham becomes a shining example of good practice and can help other councils do the same.”
Eddie Nott, UK managing director of 1st Credit, said: “It is time for public sector debt collection to change. We have developed analytical, ethical ways of working with individuals in debt to resolve their financial problems – protecting the vulnerable while maximising the money collected.”
Credit Strategy recently interviewed Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s commercial director, Michael Hainge, who has been leading this venture.