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Victims benefitting from reparations collection

Victims benefitting from increased reparations collection

A substantial increase in the amount of reparations collected in the 2002-03 financial year showed that the government was committed to helping the victims of crime, Courts Minister Rick Barker said today.

In the 2002-03 financial year to 31 May, $11.291 million in reparations was collected - a 30 per cent increase on the $8.679 million collected over the same period the previous year. Final figures for the year ending 30 June 2003 were not yet available.

Total reparations (including restitutions) imposed in the 11-month period was $15.797 million, an 11 per cent increase over the same period to 31 May 2002.

Mr Barker also said a substantial decrease in the payment of overdue reparations to victims showed that collections improvements were working.

"The increase in reparations collected in the past 11 months was greatly helped by the implementation of the new fines IT system COLLECT, which will provide long-term gains in efficiency and effectiveness of collections.

"On 31 May 2003, $23.016 million in reparations was overdue compared to $30.655 at 30 June 2002 - a reduction of $7.639 million."

Mr Barker said reparation was always paid first out of any money received when offenders were sentenced to pay both reparation and fines.

Other steps helping to increase reparations collection included the upgrade and expansion of the Courts Department Wellington Collections Contact Centre and a new contact centre being established in Auckland. The expansion is expected to enable the Department to collect an additional $90 million over four years, $22 million of which will be reparations payments for victims of crimes.

A focus on improving communication between victims and collections centre staff includes the establishment of a free phone 0800 number, allowing victims to easily access information on the status of their reparations.

Mr Barker said the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, currently before the Law and Order Select Committee, sent a clear message that fines and reparations must be paid.

A provision allowing Courts to stop "hard core" fines defaulters leaving the country is anticipated to collect $1.5 million annually in fines, including reparations that would not otherwise have been collected.

The provision would enable Courts to compare its database of fines defaulters with the Customs database of people travelling in or out of the country.

"The prospect of being stopped at the airport will encourage people to pay up before they travel," said Mr Barker.

The Bill also extends the existing information-matching arrangement with the Inland Revenue Department so defaulters could be contacted at their work place to make arrangements to pay outstanding fines and reparations.

Despite the difficulties in collecting reparations, most is eventually collected. Four years after imposition around 85% of all fines including reparations are resolved through collection or, in very rare instances, remittal.

Outstanding amounts are collected under arrangement or pursued through court enforcement such as attachments against a defaulter's salary, wages or benefit, deduction notices requiring banks to deduct money from the defaulter's account, or property seizure.

A recent two-week trial campaign by the Courts Department where the names of major fines and reparations defaulters were published in South Island newspapers was enough to get about 40 per cent of those identified to come forward.

Seven of the 553 people named paid their fines or reparations in full, new information was received about 124 people, while a further 105 entered into time-payment agreements with the Courts Department.

Mr Barker said the trial also allowed members of the public to offer valuable information on the whereabouts of several elusive offenders.

"Clearly society has a low tolerance of fines and reparations defaulters. Those who owe money to their victims be warned, no stone will be left unturned."

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