Part 4: Working with issuing authorities to improve collection rates

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

The Collections Unit has very little control over the number of infringement fines and Court-imposed fines that are referred to it, and the accuracy and completeness of information about offenders. It has little control over when fines are referred to it. These factors, discussed in more detail in Part 2, make the Collections Unit’s task more difficult.

We did not examine how issuing authorities collect fees via infringement notices. We did consider how the Collections Unit works with issuing authorities to encourage early and successful payment.

We expected the Collections Unit to work with issuing authorities to:

  • encourage the prompt payment of infringement notice fees, and thereby reduce the number of fines referred to the Collections Unit; and
  • improve the quality of data provided when unpaid infringement notices are referred to the Court, and subsequently to the Collections Unit.

The majority of infringement fines are issued either by the Police or local authorities. We focused on the relationships that the Collections Unit has with these organisations.

Issuing authorities’ limited use of time-to-pay arrangements

Under section 21 of the Summary Proceedings Act, issuing authorities can – but are not obliged to – accept time-to-pay arrangements for infringement notices. The Police issue most infringement notices and do not accept payments by instalment.

The Police advise offenders that if they wish to pay the fee for an infringement notice over time, they must wait until the unpaid fee is referred to the Collections Unit and becomes a fine.

Few local authorities offer time-to-pay arrangements. The existing arrangements for the allocation of revenue from the collection of infringement fines for some traffic-related offences may act as a disincentive for authorities to offer alternative payment options (see paragraph 1.8).

Incomplete or incorrect information about offenders

Incomplete or incorrect information makes it difficult for the Collections Unit to identify and find offenders, and collect fines. The quality of information provided by the issuing authorities varies.

The most important information for accurately identifying and locating an offender is a full name, date of birth (if the offender is a person and not a company), and a full address. The most important identifier is the date of birth.

When the offender’s date of birth is known, collection rates are consistently and substantially higher. If the address provided by the issuing authority is no longer current and the date of birth is not recorded, illegible, or incorrect, the Collections Unit can undertake only a limited range of searches of public registers to locate the new address of the offender. Further, without a date of birth, the Collections Unit is unable to use other tools, such as data matching with the Ministry of Social Development and the Inland Revenue Department, to find an updated address for the offender.

We note that under the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, the Ministry of Justice is proposing to establish minimum mandatory information requirements for infringement fees referred to the Collections Unit. However, this Bill will not make date of birth information mandatory, because other legislation governing infringement regimes does not provide for mandatory provision of this information by an offender to an issuing authority.

Working with local authorities

The Collections Unit works particularly closely with the larger local authorities. We talked to Collections Unit staff and Council officers in the larger local authorities about the relationships between their organisations. Council staff told us these relationships were positive and improving, particularly because of efforts by the Collections Unit to formalise them.

The Collections Unit has recently appointed a national relationship manager to support local relationship management initiatives. It is developing Memoranda of Understanding, and to date has signed Memoranda with 10 local authorities. The Collections Unit is continuing to build relationships with the largest 8 councils (which issue approximately 75% of all local authority infringement notices).

Other initiatives include joint strategic meetings, collecting and analysing the profile of infringement fines for the 8 largest local authorities, information sharing, joint initiatives, and joint public awareness campaigns.

The Collections Unit has also provided local authorities with data on infringement profiles and resolution rates. It has reviewed the quality of data for filing infringements, providing local authorities with tools to analyse the factors affecting their own and the Collections Unit’s success rates.

Working with the New Zealand Police

The relationship with the Police is important, because the Police impose most of the infringement fees referred to the Collections Unit. The Collections Unit and the Police have established a formal relationship plan.

The Collections Unit and Police meet quarterly to review forecasted infringements. These then form the basis for Collections Unit forecasts. As part of this, the Police have agreed to supply the Collections Unit with copies of quarterly reports to the Minister of Police, and to supplying monthly monitoring figures.

A close relationship with the Police enables Bailiffs to work with Police officers on joint operations, and provides security in situations where, during enforcement, Collections Unit staff may be putting their personal safety at risk. Collections Unit staff sometimes need to enter premises with a Police escort.

In some District Collections Units, staff and Police have undertaken joint operations, targeting common offender groups. Such initiatives can result in the collection of fines worth significant amounts of money, and have important deterrent effects. A scheme that encourages (with the co-operation of the Police and Land Transport New Zealand) young fines defaulters to gain their full driver’s licence is one example of constructive local collaboration.

Overall, however, the relationship with the Police is less structured and formalised than the relationship with local authorities. In particular, the extent and nature of the interaction varies across District Collections Units.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Collections Unit further enhance its formal relationship with the Police at a national and district level to promote the type of positive working relationships already established with local authorities.

Our conclusions

The Collections Unit has recognised the need to work closely with issuing authorities, in particular local authorities and the Police, to improve early collection rates and data quality.

The Collections Unit has taken steps to improve the data it is provided with by issuing authorities, and to improve forecasts for fines expected to enter the Unit. It has also undertaken public awareness campaigns.

Relationships between the Collections Unit and local authorities were positive and progressing well. However, the formal relationship with the Police was still developing. Given that infringement notices issued by the Police generate the majority of infringement fines entering the Collections Unit, both entities would benefit from a closer working relationship.

We found examples of local initiatives between District Collections Units and the Police. There may be scope to apply some of these approaches more widely.