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New Report on Ciivil Recovery from the CAB


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Major retailers’ use of threatened civil recovery against those accused of shoplifting or employee theft

 

darrow.gifUncivil recovery (icon_pdf.gif 410kb)

Executive summary

 

Since the publication of Unreasonable demands in December 2009, Citizens Advice has obtained both a considerable amount of new information on the practice of the civil recovery agents, and a formal Counsel’s opinion on the relevant case law. And Citizens Advice Bureaux have reported dealing with demands issued by two new civil recovery agents, including a US-based law firm. It would appear that threatening civil recovery in cases of low-value alleged theft is a lucrative and growing business.

 

This report – Uncivil recovery – therefore sets out 30 detailed, longitudinal case studies drawn from more than 300 CAB-reported cases examined in detail by Citizens Advice to date, together with the key findings of a quantitative analysis of these cases. And it draws on the key elements of the above-mentioned Counsel’s opinion on the relevant case law. In doing so, Uncivil recovery aims to assist those who have received such a civil recovery demand to come to their own decision on how – if at all – to respond.

 

In short, the practice of threatened civil recovery, as described in this report, is not only unfair (and arguably illegitimate), but provides no panacea for the (undoubtedly substantial) cost of retail crime. It does not target those responsible for most retail crime – criminal gangs and other persistent offenders – and it ‘recovers’ less than two per cent of the £977 million annual cost of the “security and loss prevention” measures reportedly taken by retailers. Indeed, the principal beneficiaries of the practice would appear to be the civil recovery agents, who collectively profit by millions of pounds and have no obvious interest in seeing the reduction in retail crime sought by public policy.

 

darrow.gifUncivil recovery (icon_pdf.gif 410kb)

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Just as CAG members has said all along.

 

And the

most prolific civil recovery agent – Retail Loss

Prevention – has confirmed that it has never

successfully litigated a fully contested county

court claim in respect of an unpaid demand.

Ash.

 

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However, this does not mean they are unsuccessful in their collection methods (otherwise the 'industry' would have withered and died long ago). Too many pay up simply to put the embarrassment behind them, and it is this that makes it worthwhile for them - just like the Private Parking Companies, who are no doubt employed by the same retailers.

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This won't be popular but, CAB suggest that civil recovery should only be for determined and persistent shoplifters, who have been convicted in court, but what are the retailers to do about the constant stream of opportunist thieves stealing low value items? The losses from this would seem to outweigh the losses from criminal gangs and repeat offenders, and the opportunist or no previous record thieves will only be given a warning from police. The CAB make no reference to this, so are they just to be ignored?

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CAB know full well that police cautions or even criminal convictions are not a public record, so why would they sugges this? Are they advocating these civil recover firms are given CRB access in the same way the DVLA sell RK data? Perhaps we should be told?

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This won't be popular but, CAB suggest that civil recovery should only be for determined and persistent shoplifters, who have been convicted in court, but what are the retailers to do about the constant stream of opportunist thieves stealing low value items? The losses from this would seem to outweigh the losses from criminal gangs and repeat offenders, and the opportunist or no previous record thieves will only be given a warning from police. The CAB make no reference to this, so are they just to be ignored?

 

Not make goods so easy to steal?

 

CAB make clear in the report that they do not condone crime at any level (the same as CAG), but the concern with civil recovery is that it is applied in very many cases where there is no crime. Let's not forget that Professor Bamfield, who introduced the concept of civil recovery to the UK (through his Institute for Retail Research - actually a commercial company), thought that it should only be applied where there had been a conviction.

 

RLP and their ilk set themselves up as a parallel justice system, and this is wholly inappropriate.

 

As for convictions not being in the public record, I cannot see why this should matter. If the retailer is the victim in a case, they will be perfectly well aware of the conviction of someone who steals from them.

 

It seems to me that it is much more important to protect innocent people from the likes of RLP than it is to offer solutions to retailers who do little to protect themselves from thieves.

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Retailers have security guards, cctv, and electronic tags to prevent theft, what else are they to do? When some people are determined to get something for nothing, then they will go to great lengths to do so. I don't mean the habitual thieves or druggies trying to get money to feed their habit, I mean the people who may be spending money in a shop, who think they are entitled to a little freebie. One young mum I saw recently, stole a mascara about £8 value and put it in her pocket. She was stopped outside by the guard and asked to return. On the way to the office she took the item from her pocket, and put it in her little boy's anorak hood.

 

I do agree that civil recovery companies are asking for a lot of money, they are purely businesses and try to make money for themselves, regardless of the effects on anyone else. I can, however, see why this is attractive to businesses. When a low value theft occurs, the police do not want to deal with it, and will get the hump if they are called out when less than £10 value has been stolen. These thefts will never make it to court, the courts system would collapse if all such crimes were processed, and the police don't want all the paperwork etc. If the police take a thief into custody, they are gone from the streets for about 3 hours. The police don't want that for such a small theft, and the public already complain enough about there not being enough officers on the streets. Even when a shoplifter is taken to court, it is quite rare for a compensation order to be made in favour of the retailer.

 

On the subject of "innocent", almost every shoplifter will say that it was an honest mistake, they are on anti-depressants, they just had an operation, they just lost a loved one, they are confused. You cannot truly believe that because someone says they are innocent, that they in fact are? It can often be seen on cctv, that a person is looking at cameras, or staff, or other customers, before slipping something into their pocket or bag. If you do a google search for shoplifters, you will find some videos to show this in action. They are not all innocent! Some retailers will give the benefit of the doubt where it is a possible mistake, but these cases are few and far between, because cctv evidence will show deliberate concealment and this removes all doubt. People can put stuff under buggies or in the hood and close it, but when they then take great pains to cover it up, it shows the intention to steal, and when they then don't produce the item for payment it has to be deliberate. Would it be normal shopping behaviour to push something up your sleeve?, remove a barcode?, remove a security tag?, remove something from it's package then conceal it?

 

I DO NOT condone the actions of civil recovery companies, but retailers pass on the costs of theft to the customer in higher prices. Why should we have to pay for the thefts of others? Given all of the above, what other avenues are open to retailers to protect their business?

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On the subject of "innocent", almost every shoplifter will say that it was an honest mistake

Of course they will just as anyone who commits any crime will come up with a defence. The difference is that EVERY other crime has to be proven for some punishment to be effected and it is up to the accuser to produce that proof to the level required by our legal system. It is not OK for one section of the community to set themselves up as some quasi-legal entity and take it upon themselves to act as judge, jury and executioner.

 

I know I'm paying for other people's dishonesty every time I go shopping but if shoplifting ceased tomorrow do you really believe prices would go down? I'm afraid I don't. This argument is not and never will be a justification for the antics of civil recovery firms.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting stuff, although I notice that CAB state that statutory interest cannot be added to claims on the small track if they are under £5000 (Page 31), this is incorrect, for starters if the sum was over £5000 then it wouldnt be on the small track anyway.

 

I have successful claimed interest on the small claims track, once for bank charges (about was £1800) and another for an issue regarding ground rent (amount was £540).

 

Andy

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  • 3 weeks later...

to my mind there is one simple answer to one of these threats, rather than writing longwinded letters

 

dear sirs

 

re your demand for XXXXXXXXXXX

 

Put up or Shut Up

 

Further correspondence, save for service, will b e filed unanswered

 

yours sincerely

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The problem with civil recovery is when they might chase a non crime. I will pose a scenario:

 

Elderly shopper pays for shopping, including a pack of razor blades, which are usually tagged to prevent theft. the checkout operator fails to remove the tag. Shopper pays, and screws the receipt into purse/pocket with the change.

 

On leaving the store the tag causes the alarm to sound, security guards apprehend the shopper and go through the bags, find the offending razor blades, and without waiting for production of receipt escort shopper back into the store to their holding room, where they phone the police and question shopper. Police arrive and shopper after giving name and address and cooperating fully with security produces the receipt. Shopper is released with an apology. Two months later invoice for £135 and threat of inclusion on dishonesty database arrives at shoppers address for cost recovery for investigating the non crime. Far fetched? looking at the CAB report this is an extremely likely scenario with the likes of Retal Loss Prevention out to maximise profit. they would argue that not producing the receipt immiediately would be enough to ground their claim for damages, for the time wasted investigating.

Edited by brassnecked

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The problem with civil recovery is when they might chase a non crime. I will pose a scenario:

 

Elderly shopper pays for shopping, including a pack of razor blades, which are usually tagged to prevent theft. the checkout operator fails to remove the tag. Shopper pays,and screws the receipt into purse/pocket with the change.

 

On leaving the store the tag causes the alarm to sound, security guards apprehend the shopper and go through the bags, find the offending razor blades, and without waiting for production of receipt escort shopper back into the store to their holding room, where they phone the police and question shopper. Police arrive and shopper after giving name and address and cooperating fully with security produces the receipt. Shopper is released with an apology. Two months later invoice for £135 and threat of inclusion on dishonesty database arrives at shoppers address for cost recovery for investigating the non crime. Far fetched? looking at the CAB report this is an extremely likely scenario with the likes of Retal Loss Prevention out to maximise profit. they would argue that not producing the receipt immiediately would be enough to ground their claim for damages, for the time wasted investigating.

 

and should be easily resolved by obtaining a copy of the police officers notes in his PNB of what occurred at the store

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and should be easily resolved by obtaining a copy of the police officers notes in his PNB of what occurred at the store

 

The worry is that it won't be 'easily' resolved though. It isn't just about not paying their silly invoices. RLP do not require any police or other official input to decide that someone is dishonest, keep records claiming so and presumably sell the information on. They're very proud of their database of dishonest people - even showed it on TV but it is not subect to any controls. Unlike credit files there is no right for anyone to see it at a reasonable cost and no protocol for correction. It would be anything but easy for an individual to find out if they were on it and to ensure their details were removed.

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The worry is that this 'database' appears to be illegal because no permission has been sought from the ICO yet its still appears to carry on being used, for what purpose no-one seems to be sure.

 

There is another thread in here where a person lost their job due to the involvement of RLP, their employer claims they were contacted by the police, but this just doesnt add up because there was no police involvement. Does the RLP database act as some sort of secret blacklist.

 

Some of you may recall that many building companies conspired to operate a secret database of workers who were deemed 'trouble makers' and found it hard to gain employment, when this list was eventually revelaed the comapnies involved were heavily fined.

 

Andy

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The worry is that this 'database' appears to be illegal because no permission has been sought from the ICO yet its still appears to carry on being used, for what purpose no-one seems to be sure.

 

There is another thread in here where a person lost their job due to the involvement of RLP, their employer claims they were contacted by the police, but this just doesnt add up because there was no police involvement. Does the RLP database act as some sort of secret blacklist.

 

Some of you may recall that many building companies conspired to operate a secret database of workers who were deemed 'trouble makers' and found it hard to gain employment, when this list was eventually revelaed the comapnies involved were heavily fined.

 

Andy

 

 

The problem is exactly that, and further to hightail's point, they will just see an incident as a licence to extract money, from the obviously innocent victim. they are not concerned that no crime was actually committed, just that they can invoice the innocent party apprehended in error, using undue duress to collect it, for the time that was spent by the store's security "investigating" the non-crime. RLP would likely argue on Watchdog, judging by their representatives interview on the BBC programme, that it is entirely reasonable to bully an innocent person in this manner and enter the details on the dishonesty database, because they wasted the stores time.

 

This to me is the inherent weakness of this system criminalising the innocent, people will pay these companies to avoid the "shame" of suspicion.

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You do not need 'permission' from the ICO to run a computer database - however, you need to be registered under the DPA, and a check of the ICO's register confirms that RLP are indeed registered complete with a Data Controller.

 

As such, a SAR sent to them with the appropriate fee is all that is required to obtain all information.

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and i suspect (IMO) that were a citizen with access to funds be found to be on a such a "database" of thieves or a list if dishonest people- there would be a lawsuit for defamation which would be virtually impossible to defend

 

moreover- i cannot conceive of a more serious kind of defamation- that to falsely accuse a person of being dishonest or a theif

 

It is generally thought to be unwise to claim anyone to be a thief or dishonest unless they have been duly convicted of such an offence

 

as far as i am aware, store staff have no powers to hold a hearing and find anyone guilty of anything- which would withstand a lawsuit for defamation

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and i suspect (IMO) that were a citizen with access to funds be found to be on a such a "database" of thieves or a list if dishonest people- there would be a lawsuit for defamation which would be virtually impossible to defend

 

moreover- i cannot conceive of a more serious kind of defamation- that to falsely accuse a person of being dishonest or a theif

 

It is generally thought to be unwise to claim anyone to be a thief or dishonest unless they have been duly convicted of such an offence

 

as far as i am aware, store staff have no powers to hold a hearing and find anyone guilty of anything- which would withstand a lawsuit for defamation

 

looking at their modus operandi, defamation doesn't even appear on their radar. they are judge, and jury, they send out their demand EVEN IF there is no crime, or conviction as they rely on the 51/49 principle of civil liability. so they will send out their demand regardless imho. Time has been taken and must be paid for so they think, and the innocent who inadvertantly caused it to be spent must pay by their reckoning.

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CAB know full well that police cautions or even criminal convictions are not a public record, so why would they sugges this? Are they advocating these civil recover firms are given CRB access in the same way the DVLA sell RK data? Perhaps we should be told?

Cautions will flag up on a CRB check in addition to a criminal conviction which should be on public record.

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I don't understand the concern - it is only an allegation available to 'club' members - it is not a 'Public Record'. Look at a similat money-making enterprise, the Credit Reference Agencies. Their system allows their clients to record 'defaults' against an individual. It is those accessing this information who decide that this default is the same as a CCJ. Their error - there has been no court case, no decision of an independent nature. Yet firms MUCH prefer to work this way, they avoid the costs of taking anyone to court, and are able to 'record' the debt information for others to see - whilst having a ready-made collection industry ready to pay them a % to take ownership of the debt to pursue the alleged debtor.

 

This appears to be what RLP do, in a parallel exploitation. You might recall they were there as a dual-track to pursue the miscreant in addition to any criminal liability. But they got greedy. Rather than ignore cases that never make it to court, they need to pursue cases that have not been proven (as theyd be unbable to exist otherwise). So far, they're still hanging on in there.

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The problem with civil recovery is when they might chase a non crime. I will pose a scenario:

 

Elderly shopper pays for shopping, including a pack of razor blades, which are usually tagged to prevent theft. the checkout operator fails to remove the tag. Shopper pays, and screws the receipt into purse/pocket with the change.

 

On leaving the store the tag causes the alarm to sound, security guards apprehend the shopper and go through the bags, find the offending razor blades, and without waiting for production of receipt escort shopper back into the store to their holding room, where they phone the police and question shopper. Police arrive and shopper after giving name and address and cooperating fully with security produces the receipt. Shopper is released with an apology. Two months later invoice for £135 and threat of inclusion on dishonesty database arrives at shoppers address for cost recovery for investigating the non crime. Far fetched? looking at the CAB report this is an extremely likely scenario with the likes of Retal Loss Prevention out to maximise profit. they would argue that not producing the receipt immiediately would be enough to ground their claim for damages, for the time wasted investigating.

Recently we had something similar here with someone called Michael who when he realised he had not been charged for an item phoned the shop told them and when he went to pay was then accused of shop lifting. It stressed him out so much that in the end he committed suicide. There is a long thread on this somewhere on CAG.

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Cautions will flag up on a CRB check in addition to a criminal conviction which should be on public record.

 

CRB is not a 'Public Record'. And this quote was lifted from over a month ago - keep up!

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CRB is not a 'Public Record'. And this quote was lifted from over a month ago - keep up!

If you read my post I never said a CRB is Public record. I said a caution will flag up on a CRB check and this is in additon to any criminal record. Crminal records are in the public domain.

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