Model Voluntary Enforcement Pilot a Success

Voluntary Compliance Model Projects in Kikinda, Novi Sad, Aranđelovac and Belgrade Pay Dividends in Increased Collections, Lower Costs

     

In an effort to increase efficiencies and improve court procedures for the collection of fines and fees imposed by misdemeanor courts (MCs), USAID Judicial Reform and Government Accountability Project (JRGA) developed inexpensive, low-cost processes for select MCs to remind defendants of their outstanding debts to the court. The results of Model Voluntary Enforcement Projects conducted in four USAID JRGA partner courts show that providing payment reminder notices to defendants is an effective and inexpensive means of improving voluntary compliance with financial sanctions, and avoiding more costly enforcement procedures.  Approximately 225,000 € in collections were made in the four courts during the projects.  The cost incurred in providing the reminder notices was minimal - only 3,400 €.  The return on investment for both noticing processes was substantial.    Every Euro invested for notices sent by SMS text messages resulted in 315 Euros collected.  Every Euro invested for notices sent by regular mail resulted in 60 Euros collected.

 

 
 

USAID JRGA project tested the application of technological and procedural innovations in fees and fines collection to determine whether the innovations would be effective for wider use. Testing was conducted through model noticing programs implemented in six locations in four JRGA partner courts: Aranđelovac, Belgrade (New Belgrade, Timočka and Topličin Venac), Kikinda, and Novi Sad Misdemeanor Courts. Utilizing regular mail notices and SMS notices, participating courts sent payment reminders to defendants with outstanding, enforceable fees and fines.   

A study undertaken during the project found that the investment (e.g., materials, services, labor, etc.) made for sending payment reminders via regular mail and SMS amounted to less than 1.5% of the total collected value.  Estimated cost per notice is less than RSD 50 for regular mail notices and little more than RSD 10 for SMS notices. The project demonstrates that by sending payment reminders prior to commencing formal enforcement action, Misdemeanor Courts can significantly increase timely collections of fines and fees, while avoiding costly and time consuming enforcement procedures for a significant number of cases.   

     

The use of payment reminder notices also serves the interests of persons owing fines, providing an additional reminder to either pay fines or make arrangements with the Court for payment arrangements.  The evaluation noted that defendants responded at a particularly high rate to SMS notices, many requesting arrangements for time enforcement action.  The Misdemeanor Courts using SMS reminders noted that many defendants commented that the SMS messages served as a useful reminder.  

Under the provisions of the revised Law on Misdemeanors, forced collection of fines may include seizure of funds in bank accounts, garnishment of wages or other income, seizure and sale of movable assets, and conversion of fines to time in prison.  Those with overdue fines will also be listed on a statewide registry of unpaid fines, which will block them from renewing licenses and registrations issued by the State, such as driver licenses.  

The results of the initiative demonstrate that Misdemeanor Courts can use low cost payment reminders notices to significantly increase timely collections of fines and fees, and avoid more costly and time consuming enforcement procedures for those cases (Enforcing fines through imprisonment, the traditional method for enforcement prior to the adoption of the revised Law on Misdemeanors, is a particularly costly approach to enforcement.  It costs a minimum of RSD 2,727 per day per defendant to the State in lost revenue and prison housing costs, in addition to the cost of court procedures to enforce the prison sentences).  
USAID JRGA will work with other misdemeanor courts to introduce payment reminder collection practices in those courts.  SMS and regular mail noticing will be incorporated in the automated case management system as a part of the Misdemeanor Court enforcement business process.