Wheels of justice still spin to collect 13-year-old fine
An unpaid ticket from 2001 has come back to haunt Andrew Robins - and he may not be the only one, as the Ministry of Justice sets out to recover $565 million in fines.
Robins, a Wellington resident, was living in Christchurch in September 2001 when he was fined $80 for not wearing a helmet while cycling.
He disputed the fine at the time, saying he was not riding his bicycle because one leg was on a pedal and the other on the ground.
He said his initial letter of dispute was not answered, so he assumed it meant he did not have to pay - an assumption he now admits was "stupid".
In June this year, he got a shock when he was contacted by the ministry seeking payment of the 13-year-old ticket, which had accumulated to $187.
He is now paying it off in weekly $5 instalments, and is advising others not to make the same mistake.
"I disregarded the fine because I thought they had given up. I stupidly let it go and and forgot about it. I realise now, I didn't go about it right."
Ministry collections acting general manager Shelley Hemi said about $235m of fines such as Robins' were overdue, and new technology and the introduction of data-matching laws enabled officials to track them down.
While its initial focus was on individuals with large overdue debts, she advised that it was now working its way through the list to those with smaller ones.
She said the ministry was unable to contact Robins from the details provided in 2001. Ten years later, when a data-matching law was implemented, it was able to find him.
The ministry has run about 400,000 profile searches, which helped recover about $120m of overdue fines.
Debt on its books was now at the lowest level in almost a decade - down from $806m in 2009.
Other tools to help recover overdue debt include stopping someone leaving the country, the power to make compulsory deductions from a person's income, and - recently - the power to suspend a driver's licence for unpaid traffic fines. The oldest fines on the books date back to September 1974, and belong to the same offender.
They were imposed for obtaining by false pretence a cheque worth more than $500. A total of $11,319 is outstanding.
The Dominion Post