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Ministry of Justice Turn to Private Debt Collectors

The Ministry of Justice is se to pilot schemes across the country which will see private debt collectors called in to help recover £420m in unpaid court fines.

Speaking to the Commons justice select committee, Ann Beasley, director general of finance at the department, revealed when providing evidence that there was a possibility of selling-off the “aged debt book” and attempting to recover outstanding balances owing for more than a year.

The debt collectors utilised will share a percentage of the monies collected with the Treasury, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said.

“HMCTS considers outstanding balances over 12 months to be ‘aged debt’. This equates to roughly £420m or 1.2m accounts.”

“HMCTS has recently engaged with three interested suppliers to pilot collection of aged debt. Each supplier was provided with 7,000 randomly selected aged accounts to work over a three month period.

“The outcomes of the pilot will be to understand the collectability of our aged debt and the best combination of techniques and innovation to collect aged debt.

Ann Beasley, Director General of Finance said:

“We collected more fine income in the last year than before but the fines awarded are going up. We are looking at a number of new approaches. Courts are making it easier to pay fines online.”

“We need to reconsider the way we enforce fines and probably engage a third party for better IT.

“Meanwhile the courts service is … trying to get people to pay their fine while still in the courts and [using] nudge techniques. We find that if you text them and use their names they are more likely to pay up – but don’t tell anyone about that.”

In answer to a written question on the outstanding fines for criminal offences imposed by courts in England and Wales, the justice minister Jonathan Djanogly gave the figure as £609,516,266.

Mr Djanogly said:

“This amount includes fines imposed in the magistrates and crown courts, prosecutor costs, compensation orders, victims surcharge and the value of unpaid fixed penalty notices and penalty notices which are transferred to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service for enforcement. The amount outstanding also includes the balance of accounts which are being paid by agreed payment plans.”

As well as criticising the department’s past delays in filing its financial returns, MPs on the justice select committee heard that the MoJ hoped to raise as much as £250m from the sale of redundant court buildings, prisons and other assets.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

“We are determined to tackle the outstanding debt which has built up over the past five years.”

“We have already taken steps to improve the collection of fines and confiscation orders – including targeted fines blitzes, increased deductions from benefits and targeted text messaging. Enforcement is an absolute priority, and we will continue to improve the way in which these sentences are upheld.”