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Welcome to High Court Enforcement Group LMS


Vulnerability and Mental Health Awareness

Defining Vulnerable


Vulnerability will be summarized in the following chapter by way of paragraph headings.

 Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter you will be able to:

 ·         Explain the general definition of a person considered to be vulnerable

Summarise a list of vulnerable persons as described in National Standards for Enforcement agents

Explain how Enforcement Agents must deal with potentially vulnerable people

State the restrictions that apply on belongings an Enforcement Agent can take under control

Recognise vulnerable situations

Describe what constitutes vulnerable drivers

Recognise vulnerability because of external circumstances

State priority actions to take to remove or reduce the distress to a driver who is identified as vulnerable after enforcement action has taken place

Define a risk assessment check list to determine driver vulnerability 

Defining ‘Vulnerable

Generally, a person is considered to be vulnerable if it would be unreasonable to expect them to be able to deal with a problem themselves.  There is no legal definition of a vulnerable person but the National Standards for taking control of goods says this could include:

older people

disabled people

the seriously ill

the recently bereaved

single parent families

pregnant women

unemployed people

those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English

Other people who could be considered vulnerable are people with mental health issues

The 85+ age group is the fastest growing demographic segment in the UK.  This means the proportion of the population with hearing, sight or other age-related difficulties is set to increase.  Older debtors can be vulnerable not because of their age but due to a range of linked factors or situations they may be in.  They are more likely to live alone or under occupy their home.  They are more likely to be disabled and less likely to use the internet.  Behaviourally, older people often display more loss aversion than other vulnerable groups and are less likely to seek help when things go wrong.  This can impact on the health of frail, elderly debtors particularly if they self-ration or under-heat their homes.  They can also experience a spiral of problems in part due to their reluctance to seek help when things start to go wrong.

Remember that the above categories are only categories and that not everyone in one of those categories will necessarily be vulnerable, but also that there may be vulnerable people who do not come into one of these categories. 

How Enforcement Agents must deal with potentially vulnerable people

The law says that enforcement agents must:

ensure that a vulnerable person has the opportunity to get help and advice to deal with the enforcement agent's action before they take goods or recover fees

not take certain belongings necessary for older or disabled people

not take goods where the debtor is a child under 16

not make a controlled goods agreement with anyone under 16

not enter a home or premises when only a child under 16 or vulnerable person is present

not take goods when a child under 16 or vulnerable adult is the only person in the home or premises.

Restrictions on belongings an enforcement agent can take

An enforcement agent cannot take the following belongings that may belong to or be required by people who are vulnerable:

any item or equipment reasonably needed for the medical care of anyone in your household

any item or equipment reasonably needed to care for anyone under 18, a disabled person or an older person

assistance dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs and dogs for disabled people

a vehicle displaying a valid disabled person's blue badge

Other guidelines for enforcement agents dealing with vulnerable people

The National Standards for taking control of goods say creditors and enforcement agents have responsibilities to protect those who are vulnerable or socially excluded.  They say:

the creditor and enforcement agent should have an agreed procedure for how vulnerable situations should be dealt with

the enforcement agent should tell the creditor if they come across a debtor who may be vulnerable

if a child under 16 is in the home alone the enforcement agent must withdraw but can ask the child when the parent will be in, as long as they don't appear to be under 12

The enforcement agent should be sensitive to potential vulnerabilities.  In some cases, they shouldn't carry on with the enforcement action and should refer the debt back to the creditor.

Vulnerable Situations

The law governing the taking control of goods includes certain protection for vulnerable persons and the socially excluded.  Enforcement agents must be able to recognise vulnerable situations and be fully aware of the degree of protection that exists.  Appropriate arrangements should be in place between creditors and enforcement agents as to how such situations should be dealt with.

The TCOG regulations do not permit an enforcement agent to enter, re-enter, or remain on premises if the debtor is a child.  If the debtor is an adult but the only person present on the premises when the enforcement agent calls is a child the agent may not enter and if the only person present is a vulnerable person, there are limitations on the agent's right to enter, re-enter, or remain. 

A child is defined in the regulations as a person under the age of 16 but it must be remembered that young persons between 16 and 18 are still not legally adults and cannot enter into contracts.  Depending on the circumstances it may be acceptable to ask a young person when an adult will be home.  If the only person present appears to be a child under 16, the enforcement agent should withdraw without making enquiries, although a card or contact request could be left in a sealed envelope.

The term 'vulnerable person' is not defined but certain categories of person are widely regarded as being potentially vulnerable. The enforcement agent will need to refer back any potentially 'vulnerable' cases for further consideration. There may be a need to confirm that a case is genuinely vulnerable or to see if a visit can be made when the vulnerable person is not the only person present.

In performing recovery by enforcement agents must take into account the circumstances of debtors who are of pensionable age, have a disability, are chronically sick, are on low incomes, or live in rural areas. The first three of these groups focus on the characteristics of an individual that may make them more at risk of being vulnerable (being on a low income and/or in a rural area are circumstances, as explained below).  These characteristics or circumstances do not necessarily mean that a debtor is vulnerable in all situations, but they may be more at risk.

There are other characteristics that may make a debtor vulnerable, and impact in different ways, their capacity to protect or represent their interests.  These include but are not limited to, living with physical health issues or a mental illness, suffering from a cognitive impairment, having a learning disability, literacy or numeracy difficulties, having speech impairment, or not speaking English as a first language.

The circumstances facing the individual

There are a range of circumstances that debtors can be in that can put them in vulnerable positions. These risk factors include, but are not limited to, the following;............................................................................