Lost Items and Overdue Fines

The Koha community has pushed a fix on Bug 22877, which has been causing issues with fines on lost items. However, the problem created by this bug had also created a handy little loophole for libraries who want a specific fines behavior that Koha doesn't really support.

Specifically, this concerns the behavior of overdue fines when an item goes from overdue to lost. Lots of libraries want the overdue fine to be forgiven when an item is lost (figuring the patron should only have to pay either the overdue fine or the replacement fee, not both). That part's easy; Koha has a system preference for it.

But then, if the lost item gets returned, some libraries want the overdue fine to come back when the replacement fee goes away. This isn't something the Koha developers really meant to be possible, but it's something some libraries have been achieving by taking advantage of bug 22877.

Once the patch for bug 22877 goes live, Koha will no longer be able to reinstate a forgiven overdue fine when a lost item is returned.

The technical bits

I'm going to spend some time on the specifics of how this bug works. If you don't love system preference and circ rules, you might want to skip down to the section titled "Does this pertain to me?"

The two big players in this are the system preferences CalculateFinesOnReturn and MarkLostItemsAsReturned.

CalculateFinesOnReturn is something we change very rarely, as it's something most libraries agree on. With CalculateFinesOnReturn set to "Do," every time an item is checked in the system looks to see if the item is overdue and, if overdue, does the math to figure out what the fine should be. The system then checks to see if there is an accruing fine on that checkout. If there is an accruing fine, the system changes it into a regular fine. If there is not an accruing fine, the system makes a new regular fine.

A similar fines action occurs when something is marked lost, because Koha doesn't want things to continue to accrue overdue fines once they're lost. Whenever you mark an item as lost, Koha checks for an accruing fine and, if it finds one, it changes it into a regular fine.

MarkLostItemAsReturned is less straightforward and varies a lot more from library to library. We talked about it at length when it was introduced in Koha 18.05. It lets a library decide whether or not an item that a patron has checked out and lost is still considered to be checked out to them after it's been set to lost. Koha has five different methods to mark something as lost, and this system preference lets one set this behavior independently for each of those methods.

If an item is not marked as returned when it gets set to lost, it can still be checked in later. What happens then is the crux of bug 22877. When the item becomes lost, its overdue fine changes from accruing to regular. If that item is later checked in, the system follows the CalculateFinesOnReturn setting and checks for an accruing fine. When it doesn't find one, it creates a new fine. We now have two overdue fines for the same checkout, which is generally a problem.

The patch from this bug prevents Koha from making a second fine for the same checkout. For most libraries, that's great. We don't want to charge patrons our maximum overdue fine twice and now we won't.

A wrinkle

But some libraries want a slightly more complicated setup to make sure patrons don't pay the overdue fine on lost items but do pay it if the item comes back. The first part of this setup is done with the system preference WhenLostForgiveFine.

If WhenLostForgiveFine is set to "Forgive," when an item is marked as lost its accruing fine gets changed to a regular fine and also has its amount outstanding set to zero.

As above, if that item is not also marked as returned when marked as lost, it can later be checked in, which will generate a new fine with an amount outstanding that has not been set to zero. This wasn't ever intended to happen, but some libraries have found it useful.

The patch from bug 22877 will also stop these fines from generating, so this behavior will no longer be possible.

Does this pertain to me?

If you always mark lost items as returned, none of this pertains to you. Your system never would have generated extra fines due to this bug.

If you don't mark lost items as returned and don't want new fines created when a lost item comes back, this patch will make Koha behave the way you want it to and you don't need to do anything further.

If you don't mark lost items as returned and do want Koha to make a new fine when a lost item comes back, then this patch will make Koha stop behaving the way you want it to. If your library is in this category, please open a ticket with us so we can talk to you about how best to move forward.

Read more by Andrew Fuerste-Henry

Tags Fines, lost