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July 2016

Government Counting Costs for Legal Aid Debt Recovery

Government Counting CostsOutsourcing the costs of recovering legal aid debt has left the Ministry of Justice nearly $175,000 out of pocket. Associate Justice Minister Simon Bridges said debt collection was outsourced in cases “where the Ministry has exhausted its own debt-recovery mechanisms”.

The Ministry began using debt collection agencies to recover legal aid debts in December 2009. Legal Aid Services general manager, Michele McCreadie said the change was in response to the increasing number of debtors who refused to engage with the Ministry. Legal Aid Services used debt collectors as “a last resort”, McCreadie said.

The debt collection agency used by the ministry was paid $10 plus GST for every one of the 5000 files it had taken on since 2009, and received a 20 per cent commission on the money they recovered.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern questioned whether the Crown could have recovered the debt by other means, without costing the taxpayer, given the seemingly high commission charged.

Ardern was also concerned that people were not choosing to access legal aid when they were told about the “aggressive nature” of the debt collection, feeling intimidated by the prospect. People could find debt collectors “pretty threatening”, Ardern said. “These are often people in pretty dire circumstances who are obviously in a financial situation where they can’t assist themselves, and then suddenly they have debt collectors used as well.”

The Ministry of Justice had been wrongly warning legal aid applicants that they may face debt collectors’ fees, but changed its application forms in April after being alerted to the issue. Debt collectors are paid from the debts they collect, not those who received the assistance.

Debt Collectors Visit 350 People for Library Fines

Library FinesYou might think it’s just a forgotten library book, but with debt collectors visiting more than 300 Wellingtonians last year for outstanding library fines, that overdue book could put a mark on your credit history.

Library and community spaces manager John Stears said the debt collectors were effective in making sure the debts were settled, either by payment or by books being returned. Councillor Sarah Free who holds the portfolio for community facilities said they had an obligation to rate payers to chase the larger amounts owing.

Wellington, Hutt City and Upper Hutt libraries passed more than 2400 members over to debt collectors in recent years, a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request showed. The total debt for lost items currently sits around the $180,000 mark, with 3000 people contributing to the total.

Stears said the largest sum of money owing to the council was $4186 for 93 lost items. The person’s debt escalated because they were able to keep issuing more books over a six week period before their card was blocked. 

Since 2008, $300,000 has been collected by the council’s debt collectors. Wendy Lane, of Lower Hutt, said such policies were heavy-handed. Her daughter was threatened with debt collectors after books and a DVD mistakenly unreturned for about a month racked up $300 in late fees. “Where does it go from being a way of getting books returned to a way of increasing your revenue?”

Hutt City Libraries manager Sandra Mann said it was “not always ideal” to charge overdue fees, and patrons could sign up for reminders. “We just want the items back so they can continue to circulate and be of use to others.” Council community services manager Debbie Duncan said any referral to debt collection services was a last resort.

Viagra alternatives works better

Last week, the United States equivalent to the Medical Products Agency, FDA, approved a new drug - Addyi (flibanserin 100 mg). The Sprout Pharmaceuticals supplier certainly cried up a bottle and journalists around the world wrote about this little pill. For Addyi is not any pill, it's the long-awaited pink Viagra.

Thus, a medicine that is expected to revolutionize women's most common sex problems (low lust) in the same way as Viagra revolutionized men's most common sex problems (erectile dysfunction) when it came in 1998. And clearly everyone wants to rewrite pink Viagra, everyone wants to rewrite sex, especially when It gets a nice scientific setting.

The subject of Pink Viagra comes up in the media on a regular basis and the conversation follows about the same pattern. In one corner, cheerful insistence that science can finally be close to finding the key to women's sex drive. In others, one and another feminist chronicle concludes that women may not want to lie because they take the main responsibility for the home and the children. The fascinating thing is that in the middle of the conversation about sex and science is the obvious few who actually talk about science.

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