Crackdown cuts fines owing total

A Ministry of Justice crackdown on fines and reparations has reduced the amount owed to the taxpayer to its lowest level in eight years.

Figures released by Courts Minister Chester Borrows show $224 million was collected last year, bringing the amount owed to $576 million - the lowest level since November 2004.

Figures for Dunedin reveal $5.68 million was collected last year, reducing the overall balance to $11.4 million overdue.

Nationally, fines and reparations peaked at $807 million in 2008-09, and the reduced loan book was due to a targeted collections effort by the Ministry of Justice, he said.

''The message we are sending to people that owe fines is to contact the ministry and arrange to take care of them,'' Mr Borrows said. The preference was for people to make payment arrangements rather than enforcement options, ''but if people repeatedly fail to meet their obligations they can expect to hear from the ministry''.

He also had a message for those who had left the country owing fines.

''The Ministry of Justice continues to work with people who leave New Zealand owing fines. ''I encourage anyone who owes a fine to the New Zealand courts and is overseas to make contact with the ministry and make arrangements to pay what they owe,'' he said.

Earlier this month, officials stopped two people at the border owing fines of more than $25,000, with both needing to pay their fines before being allowed to travel again.

Nationwide, the proportion of fines that were now overdue had reduced from 58% five years ago to 43.2% last year.

The value of imposed fines also fell, down 5% compared with 2011 at $251 million.

Since last year, credit agencies have been able to assess a person's outstanding fines and reparations when assessing their ability to buy goods on credit or hire purchase.

Between February and December, there had been more than 369,000 requests for credit checks of outstanding fines, with $14.9 million worth of fines matched to those applying for credit and $6.9 million collected.

In addition, data sharing with Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development helped locate those who had an outstanding debt, resulting in $63.75 million collected last year.

- hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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