You 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 ratepayers 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 $4,186 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.