I am writing to ask if your other readers feel the same about the centralisation of the money claims court process.
As a fresh-faced trainee solicitor, one of my first tasks was to stroll down to the local county court with a bundle of county court summonses (as they were then called), wait for a few minutes while they were issued and then return to the office to serve them; all in the space of an hour or so. Imagine that! You got to meet and talk to real-life court staff and the task of issuing claims was quick, efficient and, despite the subject matter, not at all an unpleasant experience. Clients were happy, as the wheels of justice turned at a good pace.
Fast forward 15 years or so to the present day and the situation has sadly deteriorated. The issue of money claims has been centralised so – whether you live in Newcastle or Torquay – all money claims are issued out of Northampton County Court. I have driven past Northampton several times but have never stopped there. I am sure it is a lovely place, but the mere mention of the name now sends shivers down my spine. The irony is that, under the new system, while claims are issued in Northampton, administration takes place in Salford and the call centre is based in Leicestershire. Confused?
The need to have a recorded telephone warning in place reminding callers that ‘abuse of court staff will not be tolerated’ is revealing. Court staff regularly appear to have no idea what they are talking about. I have even received correspondence threatening to strike out my client’s claim for not providing a fee – when it has already been provided three times (they tend to miraculously turn up later). One month stays suddenly turn in to three months by the time the court has found the papers and actioned a request to lift a stay.
In this day and age, when clients are more sophisticated than they have ever been and technology has advanced at a staggering rate, it seems that the court service has unfortunately followed the precedent being set by most service industries – call centres and centralisation. While this may lead to cost savings, it inevitably leads to a drop in standards and that is what has clearly happened here. The current system is impersonal and slow. It leads to delay and confusion, and the most difficult part is having to explain this to your client.
We are unlikely to ever return to ‘the good old days’ but the current system must be improved. Staff need to be appropriately trained; computer systems need to be updated; phones need to be answered; and there needs to be a much quicker turnaround in claims. A quick internet search illustrates just how frustrated users are becoming. Perhaps a good start would be to place the call centre in the same building as the court office.
Steven Ross, Brecher, London W1