The value of outstanding court fines leapt 10% last year to over £600m as the government slashed the number of permanent staff in enforcement, the Gazette can reveal.

Some £612m was owed to HM Courts & Tribunals Service in August 2015, up from £557m a year earlier.

The sum includes fines imposed in the magistrates’ and Crown courts, prosecution costs orders, compensation orders and victim surcharge orders. While the outstanding balance leapt, the number of permanent staff members employed to administer collection of financial penalties fell, from 1,324 in August 2014 to 1,120 a year later. Agency staff were recruited to fill gaps, with temporary headcount rising from 165 people to 318.

HMCTS says it is committed to collecting outstanding amounts, but critics will ask why enforcement efforts appear to be shrinking.

The data was disclosed following a freedom of information request made by the Gazette last August to which HMCTS responded last week. The response also reveals a cut in spending on fine collection. The budget for the administration and collection of financial imposition was £44.3m in 2014/15, with £42.9m forecast to be spent in 2015/16.

The last time total outstanding court fines were so high was five years ago, when the Gazette found they had risen by £21m in 12 months to £609.5m.

Since then, the figure had gently declined each year until 2015.

HMCTS said collection reached an all-time high at the end of 2014/15 with a total of £310m collected in the year. The total amount collected in 2014/15 was £20m (7%) more than in the previous 12 months.

It added: ‘HMCTS takes the issue of financial penalty enforcement very seriously and is working to ensure that clamping down on defaulters  is a continued priority nationwide.’