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In Focus Collections


Collections and enforcement in the water and energy sector


Regulatory pressure has increased on this sector in recent years, so how are they key players reacting? CCR brought together industry experts to a round-table debate, sponsored by Equita High Court Enforcement, to discuss the issues. They were: Mark Wilkinson, collections manager, Northumbrian Water (MW); Laura Bennett, credit services leader, Severn Trent Water (LB); Jerome Heap, litigation and commercial collections manager, Southern Water (JH); Sharon Brimfield, debt & risk manager, npower (SB); Kathy Cox, director of originations – UK, Arrow Global; Mark Whale, commercial development manager, Cabot Credit Management; Samantha Barnard, acquisitions manager, Lowell Group (SBA); Stuart Ashcroft, business development director, Link Financial Outsourcing (SA); Mike Harfield, co-managing director, The Sigma Financial Group (MH); Andrew Brooks, head of collections, Opus Energy; Raj Gill, collections manager, Spark Energy; Kate Robbins, litigation manager, E.ON (KR); Richard Houlbrook, senior collections professional; Alan Smith, operations director, Equita High Court Enforcement (AS); Paul Sharpe, sales and marketing director, Equita (PS); Laura Haynes, behavioural insight & intelligence director, Capita


How has the regulatory pressure on the energy and water sector developed over the past two or three years? MW: It is clear that the focus is following the trends in banking, particularly the views of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Whilst we are not, technically, covered by the FCA licencing regime, our regulator, OFWAT, is saying ‘actually you should follow best practice, you should follow them’. The Consumer Council For Water


(CCWater) has been very interested, over the past three years, in the letters we send so we run all our letters by them before they are issues. CCWater will give us feedback and ask us to change wording where they want. They do get very involved in what we send.


JH:We are rather stuck in the middle between trying to reduce the bad-debt


charge and keeping a focus on affordability and sustainability on the customers’ side. So it is a question of using intelligence and data to balance that. I think that there has been something of a waking up to the understanding that you need to concentrate on the intelligence and data capture.


KR: The energy industry has been very much under the spotlight. OFGEM is very focused on very high levels of customer fairness and energy companies are also very reputation-focused, so everything that we do to pursue debt has to be viewed through the perspective of what is going to appear in the newspapers the next day. We now disconnect consumers only in


the rarest and most extreme circumstances and are always reviewing our policies around forcibly fitting pre-payment meters, so we are having to look at our collections strategies to see what other methods we have of


recovering debt in the more traditional ways through collections and legal action.


SB: It is slightly different for us because we are dealing with businesses so we do not feel the pain as much, but in terms of regulation and media interest, the pressure is certainly on. With every single process that we have at the moment, we are being questioned and asked to provide information, in particular to the regulators.


LB:We are seeing the same thing. We regularly meet with CCWater to discuss our strategy and any changes to the routes that different customers go down; they will have a look over it and consider whether what we are saying is the right thing. Like most big utility companies, we have hundreds of different letters and, with the desire to know our customers better, it is almost getting to the stage where we feel


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Left-right: Laura Haynes; Mark Whale; Raj Gill; Mark Wilkinson October 2015 www.CCRmagazine.co.uk 33


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