Barclays Cycle Hire Company purchase Phillips bailiff’s

Barclays Cycle Hire

Barclays Cycle Hire

Serco Group plc (Serco) the services company perhaps best known to Londoners for running London’s cycle hire scheme purchased Philips Collection Services last Monday 24th October 2011.

Serco enter the Fines and Enforcement market for the first time with the acquisition of Philips who are the largest independent revenue recovery and enforcement company in the UK. Serco say this puts them in a strong position to address the growing market for public sector fines and enforcement services, worth an estimated £5.4 billion per year.

Darlington based Philips Collection Services employs around 200 people recovering outstanding arrears for major government customers such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Environment Agency, the Child Support Agency, the DVLA and HM Courts and Tribunals Service, as well as local authorities including Camden and Westminster City Council.

Reputable and ethical
Jeremy Stafford, Chief Executive of Serco’s Civil Government division, said, “This acquisition is core to our strategy for the new market of fines and enforcement. As one of the most reputable and ethical companies in this sector, Philips Collection Services is an excellent fit with Serco’s own ethos and values.”

But there remains a large cloud over the questionable operating practices employed by Phillips Collection Services, especially over their contract with Westminster City Council.

Westminster City Council use Philips as a Debt Management Service of Pre Debt Collection. In simple terms this means Westminster City Council will issue a PCN but once the Charge Certificate has been issued they pass everything over to Philips. Philips then write to the owner ‘inviting’ them to make full payment of the PCN.

But critics say that because these letters from  Phillips are headed ‘Debt collection services and certified bailiffs’ many people assume that Phillips are acting at this initial stage as certified bailiffs and pay up, when in fact they are merely acting as a Debt Collection Agency. Passing everything over to Phillips would it seem to have denied many people their right to challenge the PCN by asking for a Order for Recovery having caused victims to mistakenly think they were already at the bailiff stage.

Criticism has also been poured on Phillips for their joint operations with the Met Police at the behest of Westminster City Council to snare motorists suspected of non payment of PCNs.  Phillips have been accused of using their ANPR camera vans to pick out motorists suspected of having unpaid parking tickets at road blocks set up by the Metropolitan Police. The police are tipped off as to which vehicles to stop by Phillips staff who are parked in the same road block along side the police. In some instances the MET have incorrectly used Section 44 anti Terrorist powers to stop motorists who at worse have only committed a civil parking offence.

Most worrying of all for new owners Serco must be that Philips Collection Services contract with Westminster City Council is still the subject of an investigation by the European Commission. In 2008 Westminster Council awarded its debt recovery contract to Philips Collection Services, but then tried to make the contract available for use by its quango Partnerships in Parking (PiP) members. Embarrassingly Westminster City Council was forced to admit to the EU, through the British Government, that they had not done any EU tendering award process for this contract whatsoever which is in complete breech of EU law. There are also questions surrounding Phillips bailiff fees when serving warrants. Phillips have not been adhering to the Secretary of States orders in regard to bailiff fees.

Rotten Lemon by Treason

Rotten Lemon by Treason

Although Westminster City Council has subsequently admitted that they did not award an EU notice for the contract, to this day Phillips still boast that they have a contract in place with PiP  on their website. Phillips claim in their sales brochure that; “Westminster City Council is a member of the Partners in Parking scheme and have a framework agreement with Philips Collection Services. As a Local Authority you are entitled to join this framework agreement with minimal procurement requirements and minimal delay. “

Unfortunately Phillips have no such framework agreement, so we wonder if Serco really do still believe they have just bought a reputable and ethical company or just an embarrassing rotten lemon.

Unconnected to the Serco/Phillips acquisition Nutsville has learnt that there is currently a UK wide investigation into certain bailiff companies by the Serious Fraud Office. If that were not enough we also understand the ITV are devoting an hour long Exposure Bailiffs special to the bailiff industry, which will be very revealing.

Serco. The Biggest Company You’ve Never Heard Of… from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

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