Crime victims missing out on millions
Ten million dollars of reparations paid by criminals is sitting uncollected because the Ministry of Justice cannot find the victims who should receive it.
Ministry figures show that, by the end of last year, $2.5 million had not been paid out and a further $7.5m was handed to the Treasury because the ministry cannot keep reparation funds for more than a year.
Once the funds pass to the Treasury, victims still have seven years to collect their payouts. If they do not, the money stays with the Crown.
But victim lobby groups say the money should be put into a pool to cover support services, rather than boosting Crown coffers.
Victim Support chief executive Tony Paine was frustrated to hear reparations were not always benefiting those for whom they were intended. "Some victims do miss out in parts of the country where we can only provide a service to victims of serious crime."
If there were money available, it should be put toward victim-support services, he said.
"There's still gaps in the system and we routinely talk to people left out of pocket by crime.
"People who have lost a loved one through homicide receive some financial grants but there's a lot of other things . . . that means costs quickly get to six figures."
Sensible Sentencing Trust leader Garth McVicar said that in cases where a victim was not traceable reparations should go into a pool.
"I'm not saying the Government should keep handing more money out. It's just a case of better distribution of money collected."
Courts Minister Chester Borrows said he would not shut the door on putting unclaimed funds into a pool for victim-support services.
"We always take a look at how best to fund things, and I'm happy to take a look at that idea."
Victims already received a lot of financial support, particularly since the introduction of the offenders levy in 2010, he said.
"More reparations are being recouped. There's been about a 20 per cent increase in collections."
Those who chose not to collect their reparations were in a minority, he said.
Ministry acting general manager of collections Karen Walfisch said there were many reasons why victims did not receive the cash intended for them.
"For example, victims may choose not to provide contact details to the ministry because they don't want to receive the reparation owed to them," she said.
Attempts were made in the first 12 months to find contact addresses through vehicle licensing data, credit information, the White Pages and other internet sites. There was also an 0800 4 FINES contact centre that people could call if they thought they were owed reparations.
Mr McVicar said an opt-out register of victims was being pushed by the lobby group to solve problems around tracking people down. "We're calling for all victims to be automatically registered as part of initial paperwork with an option to opt out."
BY THE NUMBERS
$10 million of reparations has not been claimed by victims
$391,605 is the single largest amount owed to a victim
58,136 victims are owed reparations
$93 million is the total reparations owed to victims
73 per cent of reparations owed are in the process of being paid
85 per cent of Victim Support funding is from the Government
$2 million collected from the offenders levy is distributed annually by Victim Support
The Dominion Post