Part 2: Background

Ministry of Justice: Performance of the Collections Unit in collecting and enforcing fines.

In this Part, we describe fines – what they are, how they come to the Collections Unit, how they are increasing in number and amount owed, and how the Collections Unit manages them. We also describe the Collections Unit – its role, powers, organisation, and information systems.

What are infringement fines and Court-imposed fines?

In this audit, we considered how the Collections Unit collects and enforces 2 types of fines – infringement fines and fines imposed by the Courts when sentencing an offender.

A fine is a monetary penalty imposed on an offender for a breach of the law. Imposing a fine can be less disruptive to the life of an offender than other forms of punishment, such as custodial sentences. Infringement fines allow minor misconduct to be dealt with quickly, with no Court hearing costs, none of the inconvenience or public embarrassment involved in a Court appearance, and no criminal record for the offender.

Each month, some 90,000 infringement fines and Court-imposed fines are referred to the Collections Unit.

As at 30 June 2004, the Collections Unit was pursuing $522 million in fines2 and administration fees (described in paragraphs 2.37 to 2.39). Fines that began as Police-issued infringement notices, and the associated administration fees, accounted for $338 million. Fines that began as infringement notices issued by other authorities, and the associated administration fees, accounted for $118 million. Court-imposed fines, and the associated administration fees, accounted for the remaining $66 million.

Infringement fines

Infringement fines begin as infringement notices that demand a fee for an offence. The Police, other government agencies, local authorities, and Crown entities issue infringement notices under various statutes and for a wide range of offences. Infringement notices are used, for example, for traffic offences, breaches of local authority bylaws (such as parking offences or littering), and other regulatory matters. The issuing authority issues immediately, or sends by mail, a notice or ticket (sometimes described as an instant fine) to the offender.

About 100 different authorities can issue infringement notices. The Police issue most infringement notices, followed by local authorities.

The infringement procedure is set out in Section 21 of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957.3 The Act requires that if the fee is not paid within 28 days, the issuing authority may send the offender a reminder notice. The reminder notice gives the offender a further 28 days to either pay the fee to the issuing authority or seek a Court hearing.

If the fee remains unpaid, the issuing authority may apply to the District Court to have the unpaid fee enforced. In practice, the issuing authority sends, electronically, information about unpaid fees to the Collections Unit via the District Courts. A $30 filing fee is added, and from this point forward the infringement is considered a fine. The Collections Unit becomes responsible for collecting the money (see Figure 1 below).

In an estimated 39% of cases, the infringement fee is paid directly to the issuing authority. The rest – the infringement fees that have not been collected by the issuing authority – can be referred to the Court.

Sometimes people challenge their infringement notices in the Courts. If they are unsuccessful, the infringement notice is lodged with the Collections Unit and it becomes an infringement fine. A Judge or Justice of the Peace can order a $100 hearing fee be added to the infringement fine, as well as the $30 filing fee.

Most of the fines referred to the Collections Unit stem from unpaid infringement notices. Infringement fines are more difficult to collect than Court-imposed fines for several reasons. These include the length of time before an infringement notice is referred to the Collections Unit, and the limited information about the offender that issuing authorities are required to record and provide to the Collections Unit.

Infringement notices cannot be referred to the Collections Unit until at least 56 days after they were issued to an offender, and can be referred 12 months or more later. When an infringement notice is lodged with the Collections Unit, the fine cannot be enforced for another 28 days.

Figure 1
How infringement notices become fines

Figure 1 a. A ticket is issued by the Police, City Council or other authority for an infringement offence, e.g. parking, speeding, under-age drinking, littering.
Figure 1 b. A Reminder Infringement Notice is sent to the offender at their last known address. This sets out the offender’s rights, where they can pay, and the due date.
Figure 1 c. The offender must act before the due date to avoid the infringement becoming a fine.
Figure 1 d. If the offender has not acted on their rights, or paid the infringement fee by the due date, it is passed to the Court for collection.
Figure 1 e. Now it is a Court fine … and an extra $30 filing fee is added to the original infringement fee.
Figure 1 f. The Court sends the offender a Notice of Fine. This sets out the offender’s rights, where they can pay, and the due date.
Figure 1 g. A Final Notice of Fine is sent 7 days before the due date. This is the final warning before the fine becomes overdue and additional costs are imposed.
Figure 1 h. The offender must act before the due date to avoid additional costs being imposed and enforcement action taken against them.
Figure 1 i. Now the fine is overdue. $100 is added to the $30 filing fee and the original infringement fee.
Figure 1 j. If the offender still does not pay … enforcement action can be taken.
In some cases, the offender may be sent a “48 hour” card. They must respond within 48 hours to avoid enforcement action (e.g. car clamped, property taken and sold, money taken from their income, possible arrest).

Source: Based on information on the website of the Collections Unit –

Court-imposed fines

The Collections Unit collects and enforces Court-imposed fines. A Judge, Community Magistrate or Justice of the Peace may order a fine as the whole or part of a sentence.

Once the sentencing Judge, Magistrate or Justice of the Peace has imposed a fine, the Court issues a “notice of fine”. Under section 80 of the Summary Proceedings Act, this notice must be paid within 28 days after the day on which it was imposed.4 The Collections Unit is responsible for collecting Court-imposed fines from the time they are imposed.

Court-imposed fines are easier to collect than infringement fines because:

  • In setting a fine, the Court is required to consider the finances and responsibilities of the offender (if they are known). This can mean that fines are set according to an individual’s ability to pay (unlike infringement fines, which are usually fixed amounts).
  • The Court is more likely to have accurate information about the offender, making it easier for the Collections Unit to locate the offender.
  • District Collections Unit staff, known as “Court-walkers”, are often in Court to arrange on-the-spot payment on the day a fine is imposed. Court walkers escort people from the Court to a “deal room” (or the Collections Unit room within the courthouse). This early contact with the offender makes it more likely that a fine will be paid quickly.

Changes in the pattern of fines

Over time, the number of fines referred to the Collections Unit has grown. So too has the total amount of money the Collections Unit is responsible for collecting. Since 1995-96, fines filed in the District Court and referred to the Collections Unit have risen by $10 to $20 million each year. Since 2001-02, larger increases have occurred (see Figure 2 below).

While the amount owed in infringement fines has steadily increased, Court-imposed fines have remained reasonably constant. In 1992-93, the amounts owed in infringement fines and Court-imposed fines were similar (48% and 52% respectively). For the year ending 30 June 2004, infringement fines made up 81% of the fines lodged with the Collections Unit.

The increase in infringement fines has occurred because:

  • authorities are issuing more infringement notices;
  • a number of government departments and agencies have set up new, or expanded existing, infringement schemes; and
  • Police-issued infringement fines entering the Collections Unit have increased significantly.

Figure 2
Changing proportion of infringement fines and Court-imposed fines lodged with the Collections Unit*

Figure 2.

* In this figure, Court-imposed fines include reparation payments owed by an offender.

The Collections Unit is expecting to become responsible for collecting a further $346 million in infringement fines during the 2004-05 financial year.

Court-imposed fines are also likely to increase. The Sentencing Act 2002 places greater emphasis on the use of fines and reparation as a penalty. The Act sets up a hierarchy of penalties and requires that a fine and reparation be imposed whenever this is fitting. The Collections Unit expects to face more pressure because of the likely increase in the use of Court-imposed fines.

Fewer people incurring more of the fines

Many people incurring new fines already owe fines. Offenders who have incurred fines before owe about 80% of fines entering the Collections Unit. While the number of fines entering the Collections Unit is increasing, the number of individual profiles5 is reducing – fewer people are coming to owe more of the fines.

Enforcing fines

Statutory powers enable the Collections Unit to start enforcing a fine if an offender fails to pay by the due date and has not been granted more time to pay.

Enforcement can include:

  • clamping the wheels of an offender’s car;
  • issuing a warrant to seize the offender’s property;
  • taking the fine from their wages, salary, social security benefit or weekly ACC payments (an attachment order);
  • taking the fine from their bank accounts (a deduction notice);
  • placing a charging order over the offender’s property (a charging order prevents an offender from selling or disposing of land or assets without first paying his or her fines); and
  • issuing a warrant to arrest the offender.

The Collections Unit adds a $100 enforcement fee to the fine when it takes enforcement action.

When enforcement begins – overdue fines

The Collections Unit begins enforcement when a fine becomes overdue. A fine is overdue if, after 28 days in the Collections Unit, it has not been paid, is not under a time-to-pay arrangement, and is not subject to an appeal or deferral action. Fines are also considered overdue if a payment arrangement has been breached.6

A fine is not overdue if it has been with the Collections Unit for less than 28 days, is under appeal, under a time-to-pay arrangement (voluntary or enforced), or deferred for action (for example, waiting for forms to be returned, or for an offender to be released from prison).

Of the $522 million the Collections Unit was pursuing as at 30 June 2004, $225 million was not overdue and $297 million was overdue.

Remitting unpaid fines

Where enforcement options have been pursued and a fine remains unpaid, or cannot be collected for other reasons, the fine can be referred back to the Court. The Court may take various actions, including remitting all or part of the fine and imposing an alternative sentence.

Remitting fines is the role of the judiciary, not the Collections Unit, although Deputy Registrars can in some circumstances exercise their judicial authority and remit fines that are under $25 and more than 3 years old.7

As Figure 3 shows, in the 12 months to 30 June 2004, over $37 million in fines was remitted. The offenders who received an alternative sentence had owed, in total, nearly $17 million. Infringement fines made up 86.7% of the fines remitted.

Figure 3
Fines remitted 2000-01 to 2003-04

2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04
Judge-ordered remissions $14.9m $12.8m $11.8m $16.6m
Registrar-ordered remissions $3.1m $2.1m $2.9m $4.0m
Remission with alternative sentence imposed $12.4m $14.2m $16.9m $16.6m
Total remissions $30.4m $29.1m $31.6m $37.2m

How administration arrangements affect fines

Two different administration arrangements affect the total amount of unpaid fines – time-to-pay arrangements and the administration charges that can be added to a fine.

Time-to-pay arrangements

Offenders may apply to the Collections Unit to pay their fines in instalments, known as time-to-pay arrangements. Letting people pay in instalments increases the likelihood that fines will be collected.

The Collections Unit has increased its use of time-to-pay arrangements as a way to collect fines. In June 1997, the fines under time-to-pay arrangements totalled $47 million. This increased to $161.6 million in June 2003 and to $213.1 million in June 2004. Since June 2002, the number of payment arrangements put in place has increased by 122%, and the total amount of the fines under these arrangements by 64%.

The ability of offenders to pay their fines over time partly explains the increase in the total amount of fines owed. The more time-to-pay arrangements that are entered into (instead of payment in full), the larger the total owed will be (because the total includes fines under time-to-pay arrangements).

More than half of the time-to-pay arrangements made by District Collections Units or the Contact Centre were in circumstances where a previous payment arrangement had been breached or cancelled. About one in 4 arrangements add a new fine to an existing arrangement. Most arrangements involve payments of between $20 and $50 a week.

Adding filing and enforcement fees to a fine

When an unpaid infringement notice is referred to the Collections Unit, a $30 filing fee is applied. If the fine remains unpaid after 28 days, and the Collections Unit uses one of the forms of enforcement described in paragraph 2.24, the Collections Unit adds an enforcement fee of $100.8 Court-imposed fines, and fines ordered after an unsuccessful challenge to an infringement notice, can also incur Court hearing costs of $100.

Expanding the Contact Centre in 2003 and changing business rules after the COLLECT system was introduced has led to an increase in enforcement fees. Before the introduction of COLLECT, just one enforcement fee would be applied if more than one fine had been imposed on an offender whose fines were overdue. Since COLLECT, the enforcement fee has been added manually to every fine when enforcement starts, including older fines that had not had fees applied under the previous system.

This change has contributed to the increase in debt. As at 30 June 2004, of the $522 million to be collected, about $157 million was enforcement fees.

The role of the Collections Unit

The Collections Unit is a business unit of the Ministry of Justice. Its responsibilities include collecting and enforcing fines entering the Court system. It has no role in issuing infringement notices and imposing fines.

The goal of the Collections Unit is to “help make New Zealand a safer and more just place through the promotion of law-abiding behaviour by ensuring compliance with monetary orders”.

Its objectives are to set up effective and efficient procedures to receive infringement fees from issuing authorities, and effective and efficient procedures to deal with all fines once they become the Collections Unit’s responsibility.

The Collections Unit has several strategies in place to enable it to meet these objectives. These are to:

  • use technology to manage volumes;
  • contact offenders to encourage early payment;
  • support the initiatives of issuing authorities to collect infringement fees and reduce the numbers that are referred to the Collections Unit; and
  • propose new legislation to deal with the quality of information being provided to the Collections Unit by issuing authorities.

Other strategies to help the Collections Unit meet its objectives include:

  • extending its enforcement powers;
  • using electronic data matching and manual searches to find offenders who have not paid their fines;
  • undertaking major publicity campaigns linked to enforcement activities;
  • jointly leading an interagency review of the infringement system;
  • increasing staff numbers;
  • improving its workflows and business processes; and
  • seeking legislative changes to intercept Court-imposed fines defaulters at airports and match its data with the information on arrival and departure cards.

Statutory powers

The Collections Unit works within clearly defined statutory boundaries and its staff have certain statutory powers when carrying out their collection duties.

The legislation governing collecting and enforcing fines is:

  • the District Courts Act 1947, which provides for the appointment and duties of a Deputy Registrar and Bailiff;
  • the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 (along with the Summary Proceedings Regulations 1958), which sets out the procedures for dealing with infringements, the hearing of summary proceedings cases, and the conditions under which fines may be enforced. This Act also sets out which Court officers have the authority to collect and enforce fines; and
  • the Privacy Act 1993, which sets out the rules for collecting, using, and disposing of personal information.

Statutory powers of Collections Unit staff

The Collections Unit employs Deputy Registrars, Bailiffs, and other staff to collect and enforce fines.

The roles that staff carry out determine the quasi-judicial powers delegated to them in collecting and enforcing fines. Only a judicial officer of a higher standing – for example, a District Court Judge – can review the decisions of Collections Unit staff made in exercising these powers.

Powers of a Deputy Registrar

A Deputy Registrar has the power9 to make or extend a time-to-pay arrangement and issue deduction notices and attachment orders. A Deputy Registrar can issue a warrant to arrest an offender. He or she must also prepare a report to a District Court Judge or Community Magistrate if he or she believes an offender’s fines cannot be enforced. The Judge or Magistrate may substitute a sentence, remit the fines, or take other enforcement action.

A Deputy Registrar can arrange to publish the name, age, and last known address of an offender in newspapers, remit up to $25 of a fine that has been unpaid for more than 3 years, and, in certain circumstances, get information about an offender from either the Ministry of Social Development or the Inland Revenue Department.

Powers of a Bailiff

Bailiffs are officers of the Court and are subject to the directions of a Judge, Community Magistrate and Registrar. They attend Court, serve summonses and orders, and carry out warrants seizing property for unpaid fines and warrants to arrest offenders who owe fines. Bailiffs also have the statutory powers of a special constable and must swear a special constables’ oath.

The organisation of the Collections Unit

The Collections Unit consists of a National Office in Wellington, a national Contact Centre (with sites in Wellington and Auckland), a Centralised Processing Unit in Wellington, 18 District Collections Units (mostly housed in District Courts), and 9 'satellite' offices10.

As at May 2004, the Collections Unit employed 543 staff. There were 41 in the National Office, 176 in the Contact Centre, 32 in the Centralised Processing Unit, and 294 in the District Collections Units.

A General Manager leads the Collections Unit, supported by National Office Managers, 4 Area Collections Managers and a National Contact Centre Manager. They are supported by District Collections Managers.

The 3 operational arms of the Collections Unit are the Contact Centre, the Centralised Processing Unit, and the District Collections Units.

The Contact Centre

The Contact Centre was established in Wellington in 1997. It focuses on:

  • contacting offenders to collect fines before they become overdue (that is, within the first 28 days of a fine being referred to the Collections Unit); and
  • enforcing overdue fines, where contact telephone numbers are available.11

Contact Centre staff hold limited powers of a Deputy Registrar. They can only take 2 types of enforcement action under the Summary Proceedings Act. They can issue attachment orders, and give an offender more time to pay a fine, either in full or in instalments. Contact Centre staff make about 22,000 payment arrangements each month.

The Contact Centre carries out the electronic searches to find offenders, and manages the Collections Unit’s bulk mail.

The Contact Centre collects over half of the fines recovered by the Collections Unit. The first contact with offenders is, in most cases, through the Contact Centre. It contacts offenders with infringement fines and seeks to get the fines paid, or sets up time-to-pay arrangements before the fines become overdue.

All in-bound telephone calls to the Collections Unit are first directed to the Contact Centre. The Contact Centre also initiates outbound calls to offenders, using a predictive telephone dialling system.12

If calling the offender does not work (because the telephone number is wrong or out of date, there is no answer, the telephone is engaged, there is an answering machine, or the offender no longer lives at the address), the Contact Centre’s telephone system prompts staff to try to contact the offender again. The dialling system tries all the telephone numbers recorded for each offender until all the numbers have been called, or contact has been established.

In 2001, the Government approved a business case to expand the Contact Centre. A second site opened in Auckland in October 2003. The Contact Centre sites work as an integrated unit. Expanding the Contact Centre was designed to increase collection rates, help keep pace with steadily increasing numbers of infringement fines, and continue its focus on contacting offenders and collecting fines as quickly as possible.

In 2004, the Government approved a further business case to appoint 38 more agents and 9 more support staff.

District Collections Units

District Collections Units are responsible for collecting:

  • fines imposed by the Court from the day of imposition; and
  • overdue infringement fines.

The COLLECT system automatically assigns overdue infringement fines to District Collections Units if, after 28 days of attempts by the Contact Centre, the fines are not paid, under a payment arrangement, or under appeal.

Fines are referred to the District Collections Units in the area of the offender’s last known address. Because all fines are in the COLLECT system, Contact Centre agents still have access to the profile of the offender and continue to try to contact them to arrange payment.

The District Collections Units make early contact with offenders with Court-imposed fines, request, in certain circumstances, information from the Ministry of Social Development or the Inland Revenue Department, manage payment arrangements, manage overdue fines, physically enforce overdue fines, and carry out public education in the community. District Collections Unit staff also try to physically locate offenders when all other attempts to contact them have failed.

Within the District Collections Units, District Collections Managers manage their Units and report to the Area Collections Managers. They hold the statutory powers of a Deputy Registrar.

Team Leaders support the District Collections Managers. They monitor staff performance, carry out training and mentoring, oversee quality control, assign work, and co-ordinate the teams. They too hold the statutory powers of a Deputy Registrar.

Collections Officers manage overdue fines. Collections Officers in the District Collections Unit hold the statutory powers of either a Bailiff or a Deputy Registrar. Those with Bailiff powers execute all warrants issued by a Court, and negotiate payment arrangements with offenders for Court-imposed fines and infringement fines. They also carry out physical enforcement, such as warrants to seize property and wheel clamping.

Customer Services Officers deal with people at the counter or over the telephone, and provide administrative and clerical support for the District Collections Unit. Some hold the statutory powers of a Deputy Registrar.

The Centralised Processing Unit

The Centralised Processing Unit is responsible for trying to find the contact details of offenders when electronic attempts to locate them have failed. The Centralised Processing Unit was established in October 2003 to allow the District Collections Units to focus on collecting and enforcing fines face-to-face and physically locating offenders.

In 2004, the Collections Unit received funding to appoint a further 25 officers to the Centralised Processing Unit. This will help it target “hard-to-find” offenders.

Information systems within the Collections Unit

Several information technology systems play a critical role in enabling the Collections Unit to carry out its business. The systems show the status of fines, store personal information about offenders, manage telephone calls, allow payments over the Internet, and record attempts to collect and enforce a fine.


The Collection Enforcement Computer Technology (COLLECT) system is the computer program used to support the business of the Collections Unit. It replaced the Law Enforcement System (LES) and several in-house systems. It is a nationally integrated, profile-focused system that allows staff to:

  • manage tasks that have been assigned to them;
  • enter and amend information about fines and offenders;
  • record payments and make payment arrangements with the offender; and
  • assign a status to a fine, depending on the nature of the action taken by the Collections Unit and the offender.

COLLECT contains all fines and personal information about offenders. New information is added, but old information is neither deleted nor edited. This practice provides a detailed history and lets Collections Unit staff make informed decisions.

Deal Recording System (DRS)

The Deal Recording System is used by Contact Centre staff to record the payment arrangements for fines and the results of all telephone calls into and out of the Contact Centre. It interfaces with COLLECT and the predictive telephone dialling system, and lets staff manage their call lists and enter payment arrangements. The Deal Recording System can also produce management reports.

Fines On-Line

Fines On-line is a Collections Unit website ( Members of the public can use the website to pay fines and make enquiries. Each month an average of almost 1000 emails are received and up to $155,000 is collected.

Trace Management System

The Collections Unit has various ways of finding the telephone numbers and addresses of offenders, including electronic data-matching agreements. The agreements have been approved by the Privacy Commissioner, and allow, under the Privacy Act 1993, data matching with the Inland Revenue Department and the Ministry of Social Development.

The Collections Unit also uses publicly available electronic databanks, such as that held by Baycorp Advantage (NZ) Limited (formerly Baynet), and the telephone directories of Telecom New Zealand Limited, to gather more information about offenders.

The Trace Management System receives daily all new or modified data from COLLECT (the results of staff interactions with offenders). It either passes the information to the Deal Recording System for automatic dialling (if a telephone number exists) or sends the profile to be matched with data held by external agencies (if no telephone number exists).

2: When reparation is included, the total as at 30 June 2004 was $574.5 million.

3: A modified version of this scheme applies to the regimes established under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Civil Aviation Act 1990.

4: There are exceptions to this. Under section 81, a Court may allow more than 28 days for a fine to be paid, or allow payment in instalments. Under section 83, a Court may order that a fine be paid immediately. Section 86 allows a Registrar to extend the time for payment, and Section 86A allows a Bailiff to extend the time for payment (subject to a Registrar’s approval).

5: A profile in the Collections Unit is an electronic record of an individual or organisation, recording the details of an offender, their offence(s), and penalties.

6: A payment arrangement is considered breached when an expected payment is overdue by 14 days.

7: This is covered by section 88B of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957.

8: The filing fee and enforcement fee were increased from $25 and $90 respectively in 1998, under the Summary Proceedings Amendment Regulations (No. 2) 1998 and the Summary Proceedings Amendment Regulations (No. 3) 1998.

9: This is covered by sections 86 and 87 of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957.

10: In smaller towns, the Collections Unit does not have a permanent presence in the District Court building. Instead, staff from the nearest District Collections Unit travel to and from the courthouse.

11: Overdue fines are not enforced if the District Collections Unit has negotiated a time-to-pay arrangement with the offender.

12: A predictive telephone dialling system dials from a list of telephone numbers and turns the call over to an agent when a person answers the telephone.