4.1 Collection of unpaid fines

Fines can cause financial problems because they’re usually unexpected, and not factored into our household budgets. Revenue NSW is responsible for collecting most unpaid fines, and they have unique debt recovery processes and financial hardship options available for debtors. The NSW Police, Sydney Trains, local councils, hospitals and universities are examples of the agencies that use Revenue NSW as a processing service for penalty notices.

It’s essential to pay fines as early as possible, because failure to pay, or address, fines will lead to recovery action by Revenue NSW and related costs. Actions could include suspending your car licence or registration, garnishing (taking) money from your wage or bank account, registering an interest on your land title, issuing an examination summons, or community service orders.

Fine payment options include payment by instalment, seeking internal review, going to court, postponing enforcement, Work and Development Orders and in some cases fine write off.

This chapter will help you understand the fine recovery process in NSW and your options for effectively managing unpaid fines.

4.2 Types of fines

A fine is a financial penalty for breaking the law. There are two basic types of fines:

  • Penalty notices — includes a whole range of fines such as parking and speeding fines, fines for travelling on a train without a ticket, or for littering. They can be issued on the spot, left on your vehicle or mailed to you. Revenue NSW collects most penalty notices.
  • Court fines — may be imposed by a magistrate or judge, where you’ve been found guilty of an offence. Courts may also impose a victim’s support levy or order that you pay court or witness expenses. These are all treated as ‘fines’.

We will look at penalty notices and court fines separately because the processes for collection and enforcement differ.

Some penalty notices, such as those issued for failure to vote or appear for jury duty, may have different dispute processes (contact Revenue NSW for further information). You may also receive fines from shopping centre car parks and the like. These are privately issued and not managed by Revenue NSW. Read your penalty notice carefully, and check with the agency concerned, to understand your payment and appeal options.

4.3 Options for early fine management

You should not ignore fines because the longer you leave them, the harder they become to resolve. Initially, your options are paying the fine upfront or by instalment, seeking additional time to pay, or contesting the fine.

Penalty notices

To find out more information about the offence your penalty notice relates to you can go to myPenalty on the Revenue NSW website or download the Service NSW app. After entering your penalty notice number and date of offence, you can pay your penalty, view available images and details, track your payment plan, set payment reminders and avoid late fees.

Payment in full

If possible, pay your fine by the due date. If you fail to pay by the due date, you’ll receive a penalty reminder notice. If you do not pay within 28 days of receiving this notice, Revenue NSW will issue an overdue fine notice and charge an additional $65 fee (or $25 for minors).

Payment by instalments

If you make a part payment of $40 or one-sixth of your fine, before the due date on your penalty reminder notice, you may be eligible for a three-month extension. The balance is divided into six fortnightly instalments, and Revenue NSW will send you a payment schedule detailing your repayment dates and amounts. Failure to make an instalment will lead to further enforcement action and fees.

If you receive Centrelink payments, you can apply to pay by instalment without any additional enforcement fee, and you can also arrange payment via Centrepay (i.e. payments from your Centrelink benefits). Contact Revenue NSW or Services Australia to set up a Centrepay arrangement.

If you already have a payment plan in place with Revenue NSW and you receive a new penalty notice, you can apply to have it added straight away. Revenue NSW may also ‘automatically’ add new overdue fines to existing payment plans.

Contact Revenue NSW to discuss your options.

Contesting the fine

There are two ways to challenge a penalty notice:

  1. applying to Revenue NSW for an internal review of the penalty notice, or
  2. appealing to the Local Court of NSW.

If you choose to have the matter decided in court, you can’t seek an internal review.

Internal review

If you believe there were unusual circumstances in your case, which justify or explain why you breached the law, you can request a review of your matter. You can request a review in writing or by submitting an online ‘Request for Review’ form on the Revenue NSW website. Some examples of when you might seek a review include:

  • error in issuing the fine, such as mistaken identity
  • speeding to a hospital in an emergency
  • stopping in a no-parking zone, due to car breakdown
  • a 10-year clean driving record.

In determining your review request, Revenue NSW will consider your explanation, previous record and any supporting documentation. It is worth noting that a 10-year safe driving record is not relevant for ‘serious’ driving offences, such as being more than 20 km over the speed limit, using a mobile phone while driving, or offences in school zones.

There are three possible outcomes to a review request:

  1. the penalty stands
  2. caution only (offence proved, but no penalty applied), or
  3. fine cancelled (offence not established, or penalty issued in error).

If the penalty notice stands, Revenue NSW will send you a penalty reminder notice with additional time to pay. If you are unhappy with the internal review outcome, you can appeal to the Local Court before the due date on the penalty reminder notice.

You should lodge your review request before the due date on the Penalty reminder notice. If you pay your fine before receiving a reminder notice, the deadline is 60 days from when you received the penalty notice. You can seek review even if you choose to pay the fine.

Appeal to the Local Court

You can elect to have the matter dealt with by the Local Court of NSW if you:

  • believe you are not guilty, or
  • consider the penalty is too harsh under the circumstances.

To do this, fill out the court election form on the back of the penalty notice and send it to Revenue NSW before the payment due date. You can also elect to go to court via the Revenue NSW website. If you choose to go to court, you’ll get a notice confirming the time, date and location for attendance — this is called a ‘court attendance notice’ (CAN).

At court, you must plead either ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. You can complete and file a written notice of pleading with the court, before your attendance, or make your plea on the day. If you plead ‘guilty’, you are admitting the offence but dispute the severity of the penalty/fine. If you plead ‘not guilty’, you are claiming that you did not commit the offence and should not have been fined. If you plead guilty, the court should deal with your matter on the first court date, but if you plead not guilty, you may need to attend another hearing.

Get legal advice before electing to have a matter heard by a court — the maximum fine a court could impose may be much higher than the amount in the penalty notice, and you may have to pay court costs.

If you are a refugee, asylum seeker or newly arrived migrant, you must understand the potential implications of a conviction (guilty finding) in court. Get legal advice before choosing to go to court.

If you elect to go to court, you could consider making representations to the prosecutor about any unusual or extenuating circumstances relating to the offence and asking for the withdrawal of the matter, before the hearing date.

On the day of your hearing, you should bring supporting documents with you (such as a reference from your employer, any evidence showing that you are not guilty of the breach and so on). You should also be prepared to tell the magistrate why you believe you are not guilty, or why the fine is too harsh. Put your arguments in writing — if you’re nervous or afraid it’s easy to forget something. Remember to dress neatly, call the magistrate ‘Your Honour’ and always be respectful in the courtroom (see Chapter 9 for more practical guidance about attending court).

You can also provide evidence to the court of your inability to pay the fine, and the court may extend the time to pay.

You should lodge your court election notice by the due date on the penalty reminder notice. If you pay your fine before receiving a reminder notice, the deadline is 90 days from the penalty notice issue date. If you change your mind about going to court, contact the court immediately to talk about your options.

The possible outcomes in court are:

  1. Guilty — you will need to pay the penalty, which the court will set, and you may also need to pay court and prosecution costs.
  2. Guilty with no conviction recorded — you are found guilty, but don’t have to pay the fine. The offence is recorded on your record, but you won’t get any demerit points (for driving offences). You may, however, still have to pay court and prosecution costs.
  3. Not guilty — you won’t have to pay the fine, or any other costs and you won’t lose any demerit points (for driving offences).

Court fines

Payment in full

Court fines are usually payable within 28 days of being issued, but you can apply to the registrar of the court for an extension of time to pay or to pay by instalment. If you need more time to pay you should complete an application for time to pay court fines, available on the Local Court website, and file this with the court before the fine due date. Contact your court registry for further information.

If you don’t pay your court fine or obtain an extension, the court will refer the matter to Revenue NSW, who will issue an overdue fine notice and add a $65 fee. Revenue NSW may also take other enforcement actions outlined in 4.4 below.

If you receive Centrelink payments, you can apply to enforce your court fine early via Revenue NSW. That is, you can apply for an instalment plan without paying the additional $65 enforcement fee. If you already have fines with Revenue NSW, this may be a good option (so you can put them all together in one plan).

You can also organise to pay via Centrepay, which means payments will come directly out of your Centrelink benefit. Contact Revenue NSW to organise instalments or payment via Centrepay.

Contesting a court fine

Appeal to a higher court

If you believe you are not guilty of the offence, or that the penalty is too severe, you can appeal the decision. If the Local Court of NSW issued the fine, you could appeal to the District Court of NSW. You should lodge your appeal within 28 days from the date of the sentence/decision, or within three months if you have a good reason for the delay. In these cases, you will need leave (permission) of the court to have your appeal heard. You should obtain legal advice if you want to appeal a decision.

Annulment of Local Court decisions

If the Local Court has decided a matter in your absence within the last two years, you can apply for an annulment. An annulment sets aside the original decision and allows a rehearing, so you have a chance to tell the court your story.

To have the conviction annulled, you must prove to the court that:

  • you were not aware of the proceedings — for example, you were overseas
  • you were unable to attend court due to accident, illness, misadventure or other causes, or
  • it is in the interests of justice that the matter is annulled, due to the exceptional circumstances of your case — for example, you were suffering from the manic phase of a mental illness when you appeared in court, and you were unable to run the case properly.

An annulment does not necessarily mean that you don’t have to pay the fine. It just means that a court will hear the matter again. You may still need to pay the fine, or you might even get a harsher penalty.

4.4 Enforcement of fines

If a penalty notice or court fine remains unpaid after the due date on the reminder notice, and you have not contested the fine, Revenue NSW will enforce the fine.

There is a step-by-step process which Revenue NSW follows if a fine remains unpaid. Revenue NSW generally adds an extra enforcement fee for each enforcement action taken.

Step 1 — issue enforcement order

Revenue NSW will issue a fine enforcement notice, giving you a further 28 days to pay the fine and adding a $65 enforcement fee.

Step 2 — driving restrictions

If you don’t pay within 28 days, Revenue NSW will send you a notice stating that if you do not pay the fine within 14 days, Transport for NSW may suspend your driver’s licence or cancel your vehicle registration.

If you continue to drive while your licence is suspended or cancelled, or while your car is unregistered, it can lead to further fines, loss of licence or imprisonment.

Step 3 — civil action

If you don’t have a car or a licence, and the fine remains unpaid, Revenue NSW can take civil enforcement action against you (just like regular creditors). See Chapters 14 and 15 of this guide for further information about civil enforcement and how to stop it.

Garnishee order

Revenue NSW can issue a garnishee order to an individual or an organisation holding money belonging to you (such as your employer or your bank). Garnishee orders are usually directed at banks and employers, forcing them to pay money from your bank account or your wages direct to Revenue NSW. The costs of obtaining the order are added to your fine.

Revenue NSW cannot directly garnishee Centrelink payments, but they can garnishee bank accounts containing Centrelink payments that are left untouched for at least four weeks.

Property seizure order

Revenue NSW can authorise the NSW Sheriff to seize your goods and auction them to recover the debt.

The sheriff will first visit your home and demand payment of the outstanding amount. If the fine remains unpaid, the sheriff will make a list of items to be seized and provide a notice of seizure to you, giving you seven days to pay the fine. The goods will not be removed at this stage unless there is a reason to believe that you’ll abscond or remove the goods. Even though the sheriff does not take the goods right away, it is an offence to remove them before the sheriff returns to collect them.

After the seven days have passed, the sheriff can return at any time to take and sell the goods to pay off the outstanding fine(s).


Revenue NSW can use an examination summons to order you to attend court to supply information about your financial circumstances.

You can be fined for contempt of court if you don’t supply the information requested. If you do not turn up to court at the appointed time, you can be arrested and brought before the court.

Charge on land

If you own land in NSW, Revenue NSW can register a charge on your land title, which means you can’t sell your property without paying the debt owed to Revenue NSW.

Step 4 — community service order

If the fine remains unpaid and other measures have not worked, Revenue NSW could issue a community service order (CSO) against you. Unpaid fines are paid off at a fixed rate for every hour of community service you perform.

You cannot simply elect to do community service instead of paying the fine, or as an alternative to civil enforcement action. However, if civil action is not going to resolve the debt and you do not have the means to pay the debt, you can contact Revenue NSW and advise them of your willingness to undertake community service. Revenue NSW may agree to make a CSO; however, in practice, very few CSOs are issued for fines in NSW.

Step 5 — imprisonment

If you do not comply with the community service order, you may face imprisonment as a last resort. People rarely go to prison for unpaid fines, but it is a possibility. Fines are paid off at a fixed rate for each day spent in prison, with the maximum term of imprisonment being three months.

4.5 Stopping enforcement of fines

There are various options available to stop Revenue NSW enforcement actions.

Payment in full

You can stop enforcement action immediately by paying the outstanding fine and additional enforcement costs.

Payment plan

You can apply for a payment plan by contacting Revenue NSW. For example, you can set up a direct debit with Revenue NSW or ask for the instalments to be taken out of your Centrelink benefit if you receive one.

The amount you must pay each fortnight will depend on how many fines you have and your history with Revenue NSW. If you cannot afford to pay what Revenue NSW is asking for, you should submit evidence of your financial situation and request smaller repayment amounts.

Getting your licence back and your vehicle registered

Revenue NSW has the discretion to lift Transport for NSW (TfNSW) sanctions, in certain circumstances, which may include:

  • making an upfront payment and entering into a repayment plan
  • demonstrating a commitment to your repayment plan
  • showing a connection between your licence and your ability to pay (for example, you need a licence for work)
  • meeting your carer responsibilities
  • needing your licence to take up job opportunities (with proof from an employment agency that a licence is necessary)
  • lack of public transport in regional/remote areas
  • participation in Koori Community crime prevention initiatives, such as driving schools in rural communities.

If any of these reasons apply to you, contact Revenue NSW and explain why you think they should remove driving restrictions. Remember, if you enter a repayment plan to get restrictions lifted and then fail to make a repayment, the suspension will resume.

Work and development orders

If you can’t pay your fine, due to mental illness, disability, cognitive impairment, substance abuse issues, homelessness or severe financial hardship, you may be eligible for a work and development order (WDO). Under this program, you can pay off or reduce your fines by doing unpaid work, taking a course or receiving targeted treatment.

Activities which can count towards a WDO include:

  • unpaid work (such as volunteering)
  • educational, vocational or life skills courses
  • financial counselling
  • medical or mental health treatment
  • counselling  
  • drug or alcohol treatment
  • mentoring (for people under 25).

WDOs are facilitated by approved ‘sponsors’, such as health practitioners, government agencies, or non-government community-based organisations.

You can contact the Revenue NSW WDO Hotline on 1300 478 879 or Legal Aid’s WDO Service to discuss your eligibility and activities available in your area.

Applying to have a fine written off

Write-off occurs when a creditor agrees not to enforce a debt, either for a defined or indefinite period, which means future enforcement is still a possibility. Waiver of debt is when a creditor agrees to extinguish a debt — meaning they cannot pursue it again.

Revenue NSW may, in limited circumstances, write off fines if you can show that: 

  • you are unable to pay the fines, now or in the future
  • you have no goods of value, or
  • you are not able to do community service or participate in the WDO program.

Fines may also be written off on compassionate grounds (for example, you have a terminal illness and no assets of value). Contact Revenue NSW if you think you may be eligible for a write off.


Bankruptcy is a big step, and there are serious consequences that may affect your income and employment. If you’re considering bankruptcy, you should carefully read Chapter 16 of this guide.

The standard bankruptcy period is three years. After this, a debtor is released from most, but not all, of their debts. Provable debts are payable by the trustee from assets and excess income in the bankrupt’s estate during the period of bankruptcy, but disappear after discharge. Non-provable debts aren’t payable by the trustee during bankruptcy but do remain payable after discharge from bankruptcy.

Court fines and penalty notices are treated differently in bankruptcy law.

Penalty notices that were incurred before your bankruptcy and are not court-imposed are provable debts for bankruptcy and are cleared upon discharge. During bankruptcy, creditors are prohibited from enforcing remedies (such as garnishee orders and property seizure) regarding provable debt. Revenue NSW must stay (stop) enforcement for the duration of bankruptcy, but if Transport for NSW (TfNSW) sanctions such as a suspension of licence or cancellation of registration have already been imposed, they may remain in force, during and even after discharge from bankruptcy. TfNSW sanctions may continue until the fine is paid. If you need your TfNSW restrictions lifted, contact Revenue NSW to discuss your options.

Court fines are ‘non-provable’ debts, which are not cleared after discharge from bankruptcy, and which you will eventually have to pay.

You should only consider entering bankruptcy after obtaining advice from a solicitor or financial counsellor.

Annulment of overdue fines

If circumstances beyond your control prevented you from acting before the fine due date, and you don’t think you should pay your overdue fine, you can apply to have your fine annulled. Revenue NSW will refer these applications to the Local Court for determination by a magistrate. Contact Revenue NSW for an annulment application form and further information about eligibility.

Fine reduction

Where your fine is for a minor offence, such as a public transport offence, parking fine etc. you may be eligible for a 50% fine reduction. To be considered for fine reduction, you will need to demonstrate that you are unable to pay your debt, are on a government benefit, have had no more than four similar fines in the last 12 months, and cannot do a work and development order. Contact Revenue NSW to discuss your eligibility.

4.6 Information for advocates

Revenue NSW runs a priority phone and email service for registered ‘advocates’ who work with vulnerable clients. If you’re an advocate, such as a solicitor, financial counsellor or community worker, the Advocacy Hotline can be used to:

  • stop enforcement action against your client
  • help you understand your client’s fine management options
  • check the balance of your client’s unpaid fines
  • set up an affordable payment plan on behalf of your client
  • request that fines be placed on temporary ‘hold’.

Contact the Revenue NSW Advocate’s Hotline on 1300 135 627 to register for this service.