Media Releases

Toll Fines hit most vulnerable in Melbourne’s South East

January 12, 2024

Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) has obtained FOI data indicating that 40% of road toll fines issued across Victoria in the last 12 months were in Melbourne’s south-east. Local government areas in PCLC’s catchment area with the highest number of toll fines were the city of Casey with 35,246 fines issued, followed by the cities of Frankston with 16,714, Dandenong with 15,434, and the Mornington Peninsula with 12,754.

The Centre is concerned about the impact of these fines on vulnerable people who are already struggling during the current cost of living and housing crisis.

“The areas in our catchment where the highest numbers of fines were issued last year also have some of the most disadvantaged postcodes in the state”, said CEO Jackie Galloway. “This means our fines team is seeing an increase in the number of people who are already struggling to put food on the table and pay their rent who simply don’t have sufficient funds to pay their fines, even though they want to do the right thing.“

In the year to July 2023, more than two thirds of the clients who came through PCLC’s fines clinic were experiencing financial disadvantage and just under one half had a disability and/or mental health issues. The average fine debt was $13,000, with some clients having as much as $70,000 worth of debt – with no hope of being able to pay it off.  Fines Victoria’s data indicates that the value of toll infringements at the enforcement stage in PCLC’s catchment for 2022 to 2023 was almost $30 million.

“We are particularly concerned about the fact that the fines system is a common entry point into the criminal justice system for vulnerable people who are not trying to avoid their fines, but who simply do not have the means to pay”, Ms Galloway said.  “There is an urgent need for the government to help these people pay off their fines in other ways, rather than crippling them with life-long debt and the threat of criminal sanctions”.

A program run by Fines Victoria called the Work and Development Permit Scheme (WDP) has been in operation since 2017 which aims to help vulnerable people resolve their fines. The scheme allows people to work off their fine debt through therapeutic programs such as financial counselling, educational and vocational courses, treatment by a health practitioner, volunteering activities, or drug and alcohol counselling.  PCLC has been supporting this program since 2019 with a special project funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board to make the scheme more accessible. However, the Centre is concerned that it is failing to adequately support vulnerable Victorians.

In our view the WDP scheme is at risk of stalling just at the time when it is needed most,” said Ms Galloway. “ A comparison with the system in NSW, which the Victorian system was modelled on, starkly illustrates the problems. In the 2021/2022 financial year in NSW there were 29,508 WDPs issued to work off fines to the value of $44,200,000, while in the same period in Victoria only 1504 WDPs were completed to work off $3,504,758 worth of debt.”

For many vulnerable Victorians, the WDP scheme is the only way they can ever address their fines, but few know of its existence or how it works. The scheme depends on sponsor organisations, such as health and community services, psychologists, and education and counselling providers, becoming accredited as sponsors. Vulnerable people can then apply to work off their fines debt by attending therapeutic programs run by accredited services.  However, there is currently such a severe shortage of accredited sponsors that the scheme cannot begin to meet the level of need for it.

“The fines enforcement system is ineffective and disproportionately burdensome for vulnerable members of the community who find it impossible to pay their fines”, Ms Galloway said. “It is also very costly for government. We are calling on the Victorian government to invest more resources into the WDP scheme to provide better access for vulnerable Victorians to reduce their fines debt and remove them from the enforcement system, while still maintaining the deterrence and reduction of re-offending.”

Anyone who is struggling with fines debt or who is interested in obtaining more information about how to become an accredited sponsor under the WDP scheme can contact PCLC’s fines and WDP team on (03) 9783 3600.

END.

DATE: 11 January 2024

CONTACT:

Kirsten Young

PENINSULA COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE

0428 844610

kyoung@pclc.org.au

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