Ministry text error leads to phone overload

Ministry of Justice phone lines were overloaded today after thousands of people were mistakenly told to contact the ministry "ASAP".

The ministry sent a text message to 29,300 people in its collections database telling them they had an outstanding fine and to call its 0800 4 FINES number as soon as possible.

The text message advised recipients calls to the number from mobile phones would be charged to the ministry.

One Auckland woman who mistakenly received the text said it was an unpleasant way to begin her first day back at work.

"I hadn't received any tickets or fines for ages, so I was really worried that something had been left unpaid and that I had been racking up late payment fees for several years.

"The ministry website didn't help at all - it takes up to five days to find out if I owed any fines - so all I could do was wait on hold to the call centre for 20-odd minutes."

When she finally got through she was told she should not have received the text message.

Nigel Fyfe, deputy secretary legal and operational services at the Ministry of Justice, said the text message was a result of human error.

"Some people who have already paid their finds incorrectly received the text message.

"We have since sent a follow-up text to all recipients telling those that have already paid their fines to disregard the earlier text, and apologising for the mistake."

The ministry could not say how many people were incorrectly contacted, or how much their subsequent phone calls cost it in charges.

"We looked at how this mistake was able to happen and have made changes to prevent it happening again," Mr Fyfe said.

"We again apologise to people who received the message in error, but urge those with outstanding fines to make contact with us in the coming days."

- Nicholas Jones of the NZ Herald

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