When UK courts are pursuing an unpaid fine, they outsource to a debt collection company called Marston Holdings. Unfortunately, we frequently hear of examples where debt collection agents take advantage of debtor uncertainty in order to obtain speedy payment.
If you are contesting or unable to pay a fine, or find yourself being contacted by a Marston representative, it’s important to understand how the company operates.
The company has a toolkit for its agents that reflects national standards set by the UK Ministry of Justice and provides guidance and formalised processes to handle interactions with debtors.
Knowing the rules that set out what its agents can and can’t do when communicating with debtors, can help you manage what can be a stressful and intimidating experience.
Stages of enforcement
Marston undertakes collection of unpaid fines in three stages:
Compliance begins with the issuance of a Notice of Enforcement, usually, a letter lent via normal post indicating the debt owed and including a demand for payment. Marston agents have to wait seven days (not counting Sundays or Bank Holidays) after receipt of the letter for the debtor to settle the debt. No further action can be taken during this period.
Often Marston will be asked by the court to wait longer than seven days before progressing to the next stage of enforcement and to make more attempts to contact the customer after this time, generally through further letters or by telephone. Marston says it is common for its clients (in this case, The Courts) to stipulate that four letters must be sent during the compliance stage before any further action is taken.
If an outstanding fine is not paid during compliance stage, Marston will progress to what it calls the ‘enforcement’ stage, whereby a debt collection agent will visit the debtor’s residence to either obtain payment or ‘take control’ of items the debtor owns that can be resold as a way to clear the debt.
Enforcement stage and Controlled Goods Agreements
‘Taking control’ in this case doesn’t necessarily mean removing items. In practice, Marston will usually seek to enter into a controlled goods agreement with the debtor. This involves taking an inventory of the debtor’s property to identify items that could be removed at a later date. Any identified goods stay in the debtor’s possession for a defined period to allow them a final opportunity to pay the outstanding fine.
Sale or Disposal
At this final stage, a Marston agent or agents will visit the debtor’s residence again, this time to remove the goods identified in the controlled goods agreement and transport them for resale.
In addition to the outstanding fine, a debtor may be charged fees designed to cover the costs of enforcing payment via debt collection. These fees are set by statute, and Marston says it is ‘obliged’ to charge them.
Regulations enacted in 2014 set out two fee schedules, one for High Court orders and another for non-High Court orders.
NON-HIGH COURT FEES
- Compliance fee: £75
- Enforcement fee: £235 plus 7.5% of the debt value that exceeds £1,500
- Sale fee (selling at auction): £110 plus 7.5% of the debt value that exceeds £1,500
HIGH COURT FEES
- Compliance stage: £75
- 1st enforcement stage: £190 plus 7.5% of the debt value that exceeds £1,000
- 2nd enforcement stage: £495
- Sale or disposal stage:
- £525 plus 7.5% of the debt value that exceeds £1,000
Marston applies these fees according to the stages of enforcement, so they are not based on the number of activities agents undertake at each stage and cannot be calculated in that manner.
How to lodge a complaint
If a debtor is unhappy with their treatment at the hands of Marston Holdings or its agents the company has formalised a three-stage process for handling complaints:
The first step is for the debtor to make contact with Marston by email, fax, post or online to make a complaint and explain what has happened.
If a debtor isn’t happy with the outcome of stage one, they can ask for their complaint to be reviewed by Marston’s Head of Customer Care. Marston will ask the reasons for disagreeing with the first-stage finding, and for any additional information to support their position.
The final stage is an appeal process, through which a complaint may be referred to Marston’s independent Advisory Group, which is chaired by Elizabeth Filkin CBE, former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Members of the Advisory Group sit outside the company and are not Marston employees.
Other ways to lodge a complaint
Rather than lodge a complaint with Marston, Debtors are free to complain to the courts directly. The debt collection trade associations Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA) and the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) also have procedures for receiving complaints about member organisations.
Contact details for all the above are listed in Marston enforcement toolkit for its agents.
Has Marston Holdings contacted you regarding an unpaid fine?
Having a debt collection agent on your doorstep looking to inventory or seize your personal property is likely to be upsetting for anyone. It can be a frightening confrontation that leaves them feeling powerless and unable to challenge any demands.
If you’ve been contacted by Marston Holdings in relation to an unpaid court fine, consider taking legal advice.
- If your situation hasn’t been properly addressed by collection agents or you’ve been treated badly, the courts may take that into account.
- There may be a case for a reduction if you can provide evidence of low income and minimal assets, or even overturning the fine if there are grounds to believe it is unlawful.
In each of those scenarios, we may be able to help.
As a highly successful firm of criminal defence solicitors, we are experts at resolving such situations. Our advice is free and impartial, and if you wish, one of our fully-qualified solicitors may be able to represent you in court.
If you have a low income or are on benefits, after a successful application for legal aid, we may also be able to represent you free of charge.
For more information, contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit https://www.cantpaymyfine.co.uk.