Debt agency scares traffic offenders into paying

By Mathew Dearnaley

New tactics save council hundreds of thousands by avoiding court costs.

Letters threatening stern action for non-payment are being sent out by debt-collecting agency Baycorp. Photo / Supplied
Letters threatening stern action for non-payment are being sent out by debt-collecting agency Baycorp. Photo / Supplied

Letters threatening stern action for non-payment are being sent out by debt-collecting agency Baycorp.

Auckland Transport has hired debt collectors to chase people who fail to pay parking and other vehicle fines.

The scare tactics are part of a new system designed to claw back hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines without costly legal and court fees.

The council organisation says a trial of the new system saved it $400,000 in court lodgment costs in its first 3 months to the end of October. That was even after paying fees for the services of debt-collecting agency Baycorp, rather than piling them on top of car owners' fines.

Despite the shock of receiving letters threatening stern action for non-payment, motorists are given more time to pay before facing retribution through the courts.

Their credit ratings will not be adversely affected at the Baycorp stage, although information about cases which reach the courts becomes available to finance companies and banks.

Auckland Transport chief operating officer Greg Edmonds says payments have risen from about 4300 a week to 6300 simply through the addition of the words "debt collection agency" on notices sent out by Baycorp.

That follows a 63-day period, after which cases were previously sent straight to the Ministry of Justice to begin court action for debt recovery at extra cost to Auckland Transport and ultimately motorists, including filing fees of $30.67 each.

Mr Edmonds said the trial had achieved outstanding results, including $1.1 million in debt collected in its first 2 months, plus arrangements with motorists for clearing a further $250,000 over time.

Such arrangements can give them up to 12 more weeks to pay their fines before costs start multiplying through the court system.

Maori statutory board member Glenn Wilcox said he was concerned about the owner of an unregistered and unwarranted car who received a ticket for $360 from a parking warden outside a hospital to which a sick child had been driven from a rural area. "I'm concerned we are pushing people through enforcement - that's a little bit over the top."

Auckland Transport stakeholder relationships manager Alan Howard-Smith said the owner should act fast to contact his organisation so it could consider mitigating circumstances before the case was handed to Baycorp. "Write to us and we will work it out."

Cathy Casey, who has a reputation for defending the rights of underprivileged Aucklanders as chairwoman of the council's social and community forum, said she was pleased Baycorp was saving such large sums rather than leaving motorists to be "hammered by the court".

Auckland Transport communications manager Sharon Hunter said nobody liked handing out fines, but the new system gave motorists more time while saving ratepayers money which was previously lost through the court system.

"There is nothing pleasant about this for anyone, but the important thing here is to contact us early. Don't put it off - we are reasonable human beings and can make arrangements for you to pay off your fine."

Ms Hunter said Auckland Transport still sent out reminder notices 28 days after issuing infringement tickets. "The only change is that instead of it being handed to the courts after 63 days, it goes to Baycorp."

That agency then had a further 87 days to collect outstanding amounts before referring cases back to Auckland Transport.


Coughing up

How the new system works

*28 days after infringement ticket issued: Auckland Transport sends vehicle owner reminder notice.

*63 days after ticket issued: Unpaid fine referred to Baycorp for collection either immediately or through payment by instalments.

*87 days after unpaid fine is referred to Baycorp: Case sent back to Auckland Transport to consider whether to waive the fine or hand it to Ministry of Justice for collection through the court system.


$36.2m in fines collected from motorists in the financial year to June 30

$1.7m fines in arrears at June 30

$1.1m in outstanding fines collected by Baycorp from July 17 to September 30

- NZ Herald

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