Up to Â£1.4 billion worth of court fines and compensation orders will never be recovered, court officials admitted yesterday.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Because of limitations in the underlying systems, HM Courts Service has not been able to provide me with proper accounting records relating to the collection of fines, confiscation orders and penalties.”
In his report to the Commons, he went on: “I have not been able to reach an opinion on whether the HMCTS (HM Courts and Tribunals Service) shows a true and fair view of the revenues, expenditure and financial position disclosed in the financial statements.”
Mr Morse added that there had been some recent improvements to the collection of fines, confiscation orders and penalties, including new performance measures to monitor collection rates, timeliness and levels of arrears for fines and developments in enforcement and collection procedures.
But both the Ministry of Justice and the courts service told the watchdog that they may not be able to address the problems fully until the IT systems, called Libra, were significantly enhanced or replaced, he said.
An HMCTS spokesman said: “The Government takes the issue of fine enforcement very seriously and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is working to ensure clamping down on fine dodgers is a continued priority nationwide.
“HMCTS has increased the rate of fine collection every year for the past three years and is on target to do so again this year.
“The courts will do everything within their powers to trace those who do not pay.
“Money can be taken from an offender’s earnings or from benefits if they are unemployed. Warrants can be issued instructing court employed agents to seize and sell goods belonging to the offender.
“Ultimately an offender can be imprisoned for non-payment of their fine.”
Up to Â£1.4bn in court fines may never be recovered, watchdog warns
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