Part 5: Management systems and monitoring

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

We considered the various structures and procedures in place within the Collections Unit to support fines collection, including the organisation’s strategic planning.

We expected that the Collections Unit would:

  • undertake strategic planning, and that this would be clearly linked to the desired outcomes of the Ministry of Justice;
  • monitor and analyse fines and enforcement data, to guide decision-making and priority-setting and maximise the collection of fines;
  • forecast demand, revenue and collection rates in order to plan and devise collection and enforcement strategies;
  • have systems for quality control; and
  • have strategies in place for business process improvements.

We expected the Collections Unit to have strategies and systems in place to increase the skills of staff, and ensure the safety of its staff in their dealings with offenders.

We also expected to find performance assessment and reporting based on reliable data and analysis.

We did not set out to examine COLLECT as part of the audit. However, we did assess how the system was used by staff in their everyday work.

Strategic planning

We assessed whether strategic planning provided an effective platform for directing and supporting fines collection and enforcement. We examined, in particular, how well aligned the planning was at national, area, and district levels of the organisation. In our view, the national strategy for the Collections Unit clearly reflects the desired outcomes of the Ministry of Justice.

After a national planning forum in March 2004, the Collections Unit prepared area plans that are closely aligned with the priorities set in the national strategy. The operational perspective of Area Collections Managers ensures that national policies and strategies align with initiatives in the areas. The Area Managers reinforce these links through their co-ordination and oversight of the District Collections Units.

Accountability documents at the operational level are also clearly aligned with the national strategy. Documents supporting recent funding bids were clearly linked to the strategic objectives of the Collections Unit.

Monitoring and analysing fines and enforcement data

In conjunction with this audit, Audit New Zealand confirmed that the Collections Unit has controls over its accounting for revenue, and appropriately verifies data for its performance reporting.

The performance of the District Collections Units in managing fines, executing warrants, and carrying out other enforcement work, is measured at the District Collections Unit level. Their key performance indicators include revenue collected, fines dealt with, timeliness, requests for information, and warrants issued. These performance indicators are all closely linked to the Collections Unit’s business plan.

District Collections Units produce monthly business reports for their Area Collections Manager, who in turn prepares monthly area reports for the Collections Management Team.

Area Collections Managers play an important role in overseeing performance and quality control, reviewing the results of quality assurance checks for their districts, and monitoring progress in meeting performance targets.

Area and District Collections Managers are accountable for giving effect to the Collections Unit’s strategic objectives. Performance measures, targets and reporting are reflected in staff performance agreements, performance monitoring, and reviews.

The Contact Centre also produces monthly reports for the National Office, on:

  • revenue collected and payment methods;
  • numbers of telephone calls, and the quality of those calls;
  • staff productivity; and
  • its efforts to locate offenders.

The National Office provides detailed reports to the Collections Unit and Contact Centre on monthly and year-to-date performance, letting managers and staff monitor progress in meeting targets. The Collections Unit’s management team meets monthly to review performance against the business plan.

The Collections Unit reports to the Minister monthly and quarterly, stating its performance measured against key performance indicators. These indicators are focused on the timeliness of making a time-to-pay arrangement, how early the fine is paid, and how much money is collected.

Data on the amount of fines still owed

The Collections Unit collects information on the total amount of money owed in fines. Within COLLECT, the fines are defined as either overdue or not overdue. The status of a fine changes when different actions are taken, such as putting a fine that is not yet overdue under a time-to-pay arrangement. Initiatives by the Collections Unit, for example, to tackle backlogs of certain groups of fines, can bring about noticeable short-term changes in the total amount of money owed.15

Forecasting demand, revenue, and collection rates

We examined the forecasting activities of the Collections Unit, looking for evidence that the Unit was forecasting demand, revenue and collection rates, in order to plan and devise collection activities, to target resources, and increase collection rates.

The Collections Unit collects and uses a range of management information to forecast fines volumes, workloads, revenue and expenditure, and to allocate resources and set targets.

A new forecasting model is being prepared. The aim of the new model is to produce forecasts of the effect the Collections Unit’s business processes have on the numbers of, and amount owed in, fines. The model is expected to improve forecasting, enabling the Collections Unit to analyse scenarios, identify geographical variations, and prepare responses.

Forecasting fines coming in and fines likely to be collected

The Collections Unit estimates the number of Police-imposed infringement fines it is likely to receive, using information supplied by Police. About 26% of speed camera fines, and 65% of tickets issued by Police officers, are referred to the Collections Unit.

Estimates of numbers of unpaid infringement fines entering the Collections Unit from other issuing authorities are also used to forecast volumes, plan, and manage workloads.

The Collections Unit predicts the number of Court-imposed fines it is likely to receive. Its analysis shows that the total amount owed is increasing, but not the number of Court-imposed fines. The increases in value are largely because of the Sentencing Act 2002, which focuses on imposing monetary penalties (including reparation).

Forecasts of the fines likely to be collected are based on historical information, and the projected benefits of the expansion of the Contact Centre. The new forecasting model will include how changes, such as the expansion, will affect the revenue collected. Factors such as the increased use of reparation are not taken into account when forecasting but do affect collection rates (for example, because reparation owed is always collected first). The new forecasting model is being designed to consider these other factors.

Systems for quality control

The Collections Unit has a strong quality control system in place, focusing on legislative compliance and adherence to policy. In our view, the design and implementation of the quality control system is appropriate for an organisation where processes are closely governed by legislation, and where staff exercise significant statutory powers.

Managers and staff we interviewed recognised the importance of legislative compliance, and the need for a quality control system to provide assurance that staff and systems were operating within the law and in accordance with Collections Unit policy.

Team Leaders assign and oversee workloads, design office rosters, track performance against key performance indicators, and monitor the amount of cash collected. They also review the performance of staff in their teams.

Some reports and documents must be authorised by Team Leaders (remissions reports to Judges, warrants, and requests for information from the Inland Revenue Department and the Ministry of Social Development). In all of the District Collections Units we visited, Team Leaders check samples of work. District Collections Managers perform similar checks.

These quality control checks occur every 4 months, sometimes with the support of a Quality Improvement Advisor. The checks examine a selection of profiles for legislative and policy compliance. The system is well structured and focuses on key areas of business risk. The Collections Unit’s management team considers the collated results of the quality control checks.

Some regions have an inter-regional peer review system for the quarterly quality control checks. All regions have a compulsory independent review each year. This independence, either quarterly or annually, brings a fresh perspective to that review, and can help to broaden awareness of common shortcomings in policies and practices.

Failure to meet quality control requirements in any respect automatically generates an action plan, prompting a reminder to the staff member concerned (or more extensive training) to address the matter identified.

Quality control checks are also carried out in the Contact Centre. Performance Quality Advisors are responsible, together with Team Leaders, for monitoring the quality of call handling against policy and statutory requirements, and checking sample calls made or received by Contact Centre staff against defined call quality criteria.

This work is supported by the work of Policy and Process Analysts, who assess compliance by Contact Centre staff with their Deputy Registrar powers, and report on time-to-pay arrangements.

Business process improvement

The Collections Unit has an active programme for business improvement, with over 30 projects identified in its plan for 2004-05. These projects include the multi-agency review of the infringement system, policy and legislative work to enable the Collections Unit to collect fines at airports, and introducing new software to replace the current data-matching system and improve the visibility of offender histories. Projects also include drafting fines manuals, a review of health and safety practices, developing a national stakeholder relationship plan, employing 2 business improvement advisors, and exploring other ways for offenders to pay fines.

Developing the skills of staff

We asked staff and managers about the training they received on appointment, and what other training they were given.

A formal induction course for newly appointed staff is run twice a year, or when numbers dictate. In our view, this induction training provides useful guidance for staff in understanding the legislation they must comply with, policies they must follow, and service standards they are required to meet. Formal induction is supplemented by on-the-job training.

Staff in various District Collections Units had the opportunity to spend time in the Contact Centre, and Contact Centre staff the opportunity to spend time in the District Collections Units. This arrangement enables staff to become familiar with the various roles staff fill, and how they contribute to the collection of fines.

Training in the Contact Centres is relatively formal and intensive, with regular workshops (for example, on “one call” resolution) and team seminars (for example, on Privacy Act requirements).

However, the availability and consistency of training in the District Collections Units varied. In some District Collections Units, staff had received refresher or issue-specific training or workshops (such as managing difficult behaviour and call handling), which they found useful. In other District Collections Units, however, Collections Officers or Customer Services Officers had received little or no refresher training.

Varied and evolving roles for Collections Unit staff make training particularly important – for example, dedicated training is necessary for staff to meet the particular requirements and responsibilities of a Deputy Registrar and a Bailiff. Staff in the District Collections Units and the Contact Centre noted that work pressures can prevent them from having more training.

The Collections Unit has appointed a national training manager, and trainers, responsible for preparing and delivering a national training strategy. It has also set up a database to record the training undertaken by its staff. This database was being populated at the time of our audit.

In our view, the lack of a systematic approach to training in the District Collections Unit needs to be addressed, and should be a priority when preparing the national training strategy.

Recommendation 6
We recommend that the Collections Unit, as part of its national training strategy, put in place a structured and consistent approach to training for staff in District Collections Units.

Protecting the health and safety of staff

Collections Unit staff – particularly Bailiffs, whose job involves executing warrants to seize vehicles or other property – sometimes have to deal with aggressive offenders and their associates.

Some Collections Unit staff we spoke to had been verbally and physically abused in the course of their work. They felt particularly vulnerable when working alone. We accompanied Bailiffs and saw them encounter aggression when seizing property. The Collections Unit’s strategies to manage this risk included:

  • consulting the Police when staff planned to visit a property and expected to encounter aggression; and
  • staff telephoning their office at regular, specified times.

The Collections Unit has recognised the risks faced by its staff and set up a Health and Safety Working Party in March 2004 to:

  • address health and safety issues;
  • review and make recommendations on health and safety policy, standards and procedures; and
  • help with preparing a health and safety plan.

There is a field in COLLECT to record and access information about the safety risks that certain offenders present for staff. The Collections Unit has issued interim health and safety standards, pending the release of national standards for the Ministry of Justice. These interim standards require that:

  • before making visits, staff must look in COLLECT for any information about the health and safety risks that those offenders may present;
  • staff must complete a risk assessment checklist to identify any known hazards associated with the planned visits;
  • staff must assess risk when planning to enter a property, and leave if a threatening situation arises;
  • the District Collections Units must have call-in procedures to confirm at regular intervals that staff are safe; and
  • in high-risk situations, staff must work in pairs.

The Collections Unit is also trialling Global Positioning System devices and other technology, so that the District Collections Units can better monitor the whereabouts of staff.

In 2004-05, the Collections Unit received funding to recruit 30 more staff, which will enable officers to work in pairs when undertaking potentially dangerous tasks. The funding will also allow the Collections Unit to buy communication devices for staff doing enforcement work. These measures are intended to enhance the ability of the Collections Unit to meet its obligations under the Health and Safety Amendment Act 2002.

The COLLECT computer program

During our audit, some staff noted that COLLECT was not always available. We obtained data about outages over a six-month period in 2004: the system was unavailable for only short periods, and in our view, outages were not a significant issue. At the time of our audit, the Collections Unit was surveying staff about the performance of COLLECT.

Our own testing of selected screens in COLLECT, interviews, and observations of staff working at terminals in Contact Centres and the District Collections Units confirmed that the system was generally easy to navigate and work with. Valuable features of the system include the ability to link new fines to existing profiles (given that 70-80% of new fines are for offenders who already owe fines), assign work, and generate data for performance reporting.

From March 2005, changes to COLLECT will enable staff to better track changes made to a fines profile. COLLECT does not show all the procedures the Collections Unit follows to contact offenders and recover fines, nor a full history of its interactions with an offender. A project to redesign fields in COLLECT is expected to integrate the aspects of fines collection that are currently not visible, or are fragmented.

The Collections Unit is pursuing opportunities to improve the capability of COLLECT, including the ability to produce reports focused on particular parts of the business. Review of the COLLECT computer program

COLLECT was commissioned in December 2001. Since then the number of users of the system has increased significantly, as have the total amount of fines being managed and the fines collected. There are currently 5.1 million profiles in the system, containing 64.6 million transactions.

The Ministry of Justice has commissioned a review of COLLECT to assess whether it is capable of meeting the Collections Unit’s future business requirements. The review concluded that COLLECT in its present form is unlikely to support the long-term growth in business. However, given the possibility of changes to the infringement system, the review recommended that the Ministry address some of the more significant issues with COLLECT and continue to use the system until future business requirements are better defined. At that point, the review recommended that the Ministry should consider replacing COLLECT. We will take a continued interest in the effectiveness of the COLLECT system.

15: The total reported debt is the gross amount owing in fines, less “doubtful” debts. The latter figure is reviewed quarterly, but the way it is calculated could change when the new forecasting model is introduced. Audit New Zealand is happy with the current methodology.

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