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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.

Things a Debt Collection Agency Must Tell You

Things a Debt Collection Agency Must Tell YouWhen you’re deep in debt, it’s not easy to climb your way out. It’s a challenging situation that gets even more stressful when the creditors want their money back and debt collectors get involved. Just the thought of having to open the mailbox or the sound of the phone ringing can be nerve wracking. So it’s worth knowing your rights and that there are certain things a debt collection agency must tell you.

Written Notice
A debt collector is not permitted to just call and tell you that you owe a debt. They must provide written notice within five days of contacting you. The letter must set out the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor and any relevant details.

Right to Challenge
The debt collection agency must also explain the process you should follow if you believe you do not own the debt. You have the right to challenge the validity of the debt so long as you do so within 30 days of receiving the written notice.

Stop Calling
Debt collectors have to stop contacting you if you send a letter asking them to do so. However, it’s also important to remember that a legitimate debt will not go away simply because the phone calls stop.

Know What You Owe
Regularly keeping track of your debts via a credit report can help if you are ever contacted by a debt collector. You can get your credit report free from a reporting agency, unless you need it quickly. It’s a good way to help you spot any fake debt collectors but it can also help you face the issues and come up with a plan to address them before the debt collectors come knocking.

How to Deal with Fake Debt Collectors

How to Deal with Fake Debt CollectorsWarnings are being issued to consumers to watch for persistent scammers who attempt to collect debts that don’t even exist.

When an unfamiliar voice on the phone informs you that you owe hundreds of dollars on an unpaid debt, a debt you don’t even recall having, what do you do? How do you know if the call is legitimate?

Anyone can fall victim to calls from fake debt collectors because the scammers are often very convincing. If you haven’t been doing a good job of keeping track of your debts, you could become easy prey.

Here are some tips on how you can protect yourself.

Know Your Rights
Whatever they tell you, tell them you’ll wait for the letter – but don’t give them your address. Debt collection agencies must send a written letter outlining the details of the debt and if they’re legitimate they’ll have your address on file.

You should also know that debt collectors are not permitted to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when attempting to collect your debt.

Ask Questions
If someone calls you claiming to be from a debt collection agency, ask them for the name, address, and phone number of the company they’re calling from, or the contact details of the debtor they’re trying to reach.

A legitimate debt collector will be happy to provide you with this information whereas phony collectors may avoid giving an answer.

Keep Track of Your Debts
If you receive written notice of a debt, order your own credit report so that you can see whether the debt appears on your file. If you don’t recognise the debt, you must respond in a letter stating that you are not the owner of the debt.

Debt Recovery an Increasing Problem for Businesses

Debt Recovery an Increasing Problem for BusinessesTimes are tough for many and there’s little evidence that anything will change soon. As international milk prices continue to fall and the New Zealand economy muddles along the bottom, so everybody’s debt levels are rising. Invoices are going unpaid for up to 120 days at a time, according to one credit management company.

Data from credit agencies indicates a disappointing future of more unpaid invoices and company collapses as a lack of cash flow drives them under. Debt collection and debt recovery agencies say the situation is worsening and recommend businesses carry out credit reference checks to avoid the frustrations of chasing clients for late payments.

The last thing any business owner wants is to deal with the often financially-crippling scenario of having to recover debts totalling thousands of dollars by customers who don’t pay. An increasing number of New Zealand firms are delaying their bill payments, a trend that can draw an increasing number of vulnerable businesses into the late payment cycle.

The day an expected payment from a customer is missed, a business should be on the phone to query it. Firms must proactively monitor and manage any customers who are struggling to pay and even customers with a good track record of payments should be managed and monitored. For small businesses in particular, going through the process of recovering these debts can be difficult and time consuming and the delay in cash flow can push them into severe financial stress.

That’s when debt recovery software like iCollect can assist. Managing credit and debt collection does not have to be an onerous task.  Getting the right system is like a professional safety check. With the right debt recovery software in place you’ll know where your clients are at so you can make the best, timely decisions for the success of your business.

Benefits of Debt Collection Software

Benefits of Debt Collection SoftwareDebt collection software is a powerful tool that can make life easier for businesses of all sizes and at an affordable price.

Cash is the lifeblood of any business. With cash, firms are not only able to meet their obligations to staff and suppliers but it provides the ability to invest in and develop the business. So when cash flow dries up, businesses struggle and can end up facing severe financial pressures.

One of the best ways for improving the cash flow of a company is to increase the quality of its debt management processes. A credit management and debt collection tool provides incomparable benefits when compared to conventional spreadsheets.

Implementing specialist debt recovery software like iCollect offers powerful debt collection and reporting features that will professionalise your debt recovery processes. Every late payment will become an opportunity to improve internal collection systems. By making the most of the dedicated
credit management technology available, your business can experience the benefits of establishing an effective, automated collection process.

Reminders are methodical and prioritised and automation of some reminders will ensure continuity of recovery and less time wasted by you and your staff. Data is accurate and up to date allowing the tracking of non-payments to be identified early. The ability to be proactive will help resolve the
dispute as quickly as possible to make the payment recoverable.

The customer payment behaviour is measured. Better information about your clients allows you to recover debts with different collection strategies depending on the client behaviour and can be used to encourage customers to pay their bills in a timely manner.

Implementing the right debt collection software for your business could help you increase your cash flow and ensure the success of your business.

Understanding Debt Recovery and Enforcement

Understanding Debt Recovery EnforcementIf you don’t pay a debt, the person you owe money to (the creditor) may negotiate with you about the debt or they can take you to court.

It’s also possible that the creditor might get a debt collection agency involved – either just to help them recover the debt or they might sell the debt to a debt collection agency, who will then legally become the “creditor”.

A debt collection agency will first ask in writing for the debt to be paid and provide information about the consequences if it isn’t.

If you disagree that you owe the money, you should tell the creditor or debt collection agency as soon as possible and give your reasons.

If the debt is $15,000 or less, a claim can be taken to the Disputes Tribunal. Claims between $15,000 and $20,000 can also be taken to the Tribunal, if both sides agree to dealing with the dispute this way.

Claims can be taken to the District Court if the debt is not more than $200,000, or the High Court for a debt of any amount but usually over $200,000.

The court can order the debt to be paid off by instalments, they can order an employer to take money directly from a person’s salary or wages to pay the debt, and they can issue a warrant to seize money or goods belonging to the debtor. Goods can only be repossessed if the signed contract explicitly allows this.

If the court is satisfied that the debt can be paid but the person is simply refusing to do so, it can order them to do community work for up to 200 hours.

If you need help with unpaid debts, consider iCollect business debt collection software, serving businesses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for over 10 years.

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