How much will it cost to collect seven cents? It doesn’t matter if your job is collecting fines

Alf is acutely aware of the need for fiscal austerity, to help Bill English bring the books back into the black over the next few years.

Otherwise he would ask the bureaucrats at our Ministry of Justice to put whatever time and effort is needed into explaining who was involved in recovering a certain sum of outstanding money and how much time they spent on the quest.

Obviously it costs money to chase someone for money.

You would think, therefore, that someone would weigh up the cost of the chasing against the revenue to be collected.

If the costs of the chasing are sure to exceed the revenue that will be gathered, well…

Let’s just flag it away.

But the bureaucratic mindset doesn’t tick quite like that.

In the case which has raised Alf’s ire about bureaucracy gone mad, the cost of just one stamp for a letter would have more than exceeded the cost of the money demanded, which amounted to….

Drum toll, please…

The answer is….

Seven bloody cents.

The story is told today at Stuff.

A Christchurch woman has been chased for a seven cent unpaid fine by the Justice Ministry.

Cecilia Toi-Price received a $500 fine in November when police found her driver’s licence had expired when she was stopped at a routine alcohol checkpoint.

Her husband, Graeme Price, said she renewed her licence and paid the $500 in full, using cash.

However, the couple were bemused to receive a letter from the Justice Ministry on December 31, asking for a further seven cents to be paid in full, or Toi-Price would receive a $120 penalty.

They were told the overdue amount related to Justice Ministry costs.

Alf is delighted to report that Graeme Price told the ministry he would give them 10 cents in cash, but wanted three cents change.

The ministry fine collectors did not get their seven cents but they did – ultimately – exercise some common sense, because the ministry reportedly waived the seven cent fine on Wednesday.

Price nevertheless is damned right when he says the fact they chased it in the first place was “ridiculous”.

“It’s cost them what … 80, 90 cents to send this out,” Price said.

Naturally, a Justice Ministry spokesperson has an explanation.

It can be found in the Stuff report.

It’s got everything to do with automatic procedures.

We can expect – or rather, we should hope for – an examination and revision of these procedures.

The ministry’s statement also said –

“We will be looking into this matter further when work resumes [today].”

The spokesperson seems to have been keen to point out that there were 450,000 people owing $643.9 million worth of fines in New Zealand at November 30, 2011.

The number had decreased from $701.6 million a year ago.

But this doesn’t quite address the question of why no-one stopped to ask how much effort should go into chasing seven cents.

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