MANY motorists from the Mornington Peninsula, Frankston and Casey areas are finding it difficult to pay fines for traffic offences.
Statistics released by Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) show that 40 per cent of fines issued in Victoria over the past 12 months were to people on the peninsula (2754), Frankston (16,714) and Casey (35,256).
Fines Victoria’s data indicates that the value of fines at the enforcement stage in PCLC’s catchment for 2022 to 2023 was almost $30 million.
The average fine debt was $13,000, with some clients owing as much as $70,000.
CEO Jackie Galloway said the centre was concerned about the impact of fines on people who were already struggling with living and housing costs.
“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,” she said.
“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 12 months to July 2023, more than two thirds of clients who came through PCLC’s fines clinic were experiencing financial disadvantage and just under one half had disability and/or mental health issues.
“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,” 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 operating since 2017 which aims to help vulnerable people resolve their fines. The scheme allows people to work off their fine debt through therapeutic programs including financial counselling, educational and vocational courses, treatment by a health practitioner, volunteering activities, or drug and alcohol counselling.
PCLC has been supporting the program since 2019 with a special project paid for by the Victorian Legal Services Board.
“In our view the WDP scheme is at risk of stalling just at the time when it is needed most,” Galloway said.
A comparison with the system in NSW, which the Victorian system was modelled on, illustrated the problems. In the 2021/2022 financial year in NSW there were 29,508 WDPs issued to work off fines totalling $44.2 million. In the same period in Victoria just 1504 WDPs were completed to work off debts of $3.5 m.
The scheme depended on sponsor organisations, but Galloway said there was a shortage of accredited sponsors and the scheme could meet demand.
“The fines enforcement system is ineffective and disproportionately burdensome for vulnerable members of the community who find it impossible to pay their fines,” she 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 9783 3600.