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 fines.
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:
- asking Transport for NSW to suspend your driver licence or cancel your car registration
- taking money from your bank account or wages
- referring your debt to a private debt collection agency
- registering an interest on any land or property you may own
- ordering the sheriff to take your goods or property and sell them to pay the amount you owe.
Fine payment options include applying for a payment plan, seeking internal review, going to court, postponing recovery action, 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:
- Fines — such as parking and speeding fines, or 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 fines.
- 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 fines and court fines separately because the processes for collection and recovery differ.
Some fines, 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 fine 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 in full or by a payment plan, or contesting the fine.
To find out more information about the offence your fine notice relates to you can go to myPenalty on the Revenue NSW website or download the Service NSW app. After entering your fine notice number and date of offence, you will see the offence details, options and the status of the fine.
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 fine reminder notice. If you do not pay within 28 days of receiving this notice, Revenue NSW will issue an overdue fine and add an additional $65 fee (or $25 for minors).
Whether you have received a fine or an overdue fine you can apply for a payment plan.
If you receive Centrelink payments, you can have the payment plan repayments taken from your Centrelink payment. Contact Revenue NSW or Services Australia to set up a Centrepay arrangement.
To avoid further action and costs being added to the fine, you should apply for a payment plan before an overdue fine is issued.
If you already have a payment plan in place with Revenue NSW and you receive a new fine, 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 fine:
- applying to Revenue NSW for an internal review of the fine, or
- applying to Revenue NSW to have your fine heard in court .
If you choose to have the matter decided in court, you can’t seek an 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:
- the fine stands
- caution only (offence proved, but no fine applied), or
- fine cancelled (offence not established, or fine issued in error).
If the fine stands, Revenue NSW will send you a fine reminder notice with additional time to finalise. If you are unhappy with the internal review outcome, you can apply to Revenue NSW to have your fine heard in court before the due date on the fine reminder notice.
You should lodge your review request before the due date on the fine reminder notice. You can seek review even if you choose to pay the fine. However, if you pay your fine before receiving a reminder notice, the deadline is 60 days from when you received the fine.
Applying to have your fine heard in 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 fine is too harsh under the circumstances.
To do this, fill out the court election form on the back of the fine 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 the due date on the fine reminder notice has passed, you will need to wait until you receive an overdue fine. You can apply to have an overdue fine challenged in court however you will need to prove that you were prevented from paying or managing your fine before the due date — this is called hindrance. You will need to supply supporting evidence, such as medical or travel documents. When an overdue fine is issued, any demerit points will remain on your licence until your court election is processed.
Other time limits apply:
- If you paid the fine before receiving a fine reminder notice — 90 days from the date that the fine notice was issued.
- If you asked NSW Revenue for a review and paid all of the fine before there was a fine reminder notice — 28 days from receiving the review decision.
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 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 fine 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.
The possible outcomes in court are:
- Guilty — you will need to pay the penalty, which the court will set, and you may also need to pay court and prosecution costs.
- 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.
- 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).
Case study — disputing a fine
Mark got a fine for travelling on a train using a concession ticket. He is a student and is entitled to a concession ticket but had left his ID at home on the day he was fined. Mark lodged an online internal review request with Revenue NSW and submitted a copy of his concession card. Revenue NSW decided to issue a caution for the fine, which means he doesn’t have to pay.
Payment in full and pay by instalments
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/pay by instalment arrangement with the court, the court will refer the matter to Revenue NSW, who will issue an overdue fine and add a $65 fee. Revenue NSW may also take other recovery actions outlined in 4.4 below.
If you receive a Centrelink payment, you can have a payment plan without paying the additional $65 recovery fee with Revenue NSW. The repayments will be taken from your Centrelink payment. Contact the court registry where your fine was heard to request this. If you already have fines with Revenue NSW, this may be a good option, so you can put them all together in one plan.
Contesting a court fine
Appeal to a higher court
If you believe you are not guilty of the offence, or that the fine 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 fine or court fine remains unpaid after the due date on the reminder notice, and you have not contested the fine, Revenue NSW will start recovery the fine.
There is a step-by-step process which Revenue NSW follows if a fine remains unpaid. Revenue NSW generally adds an extra recovery fee for each action taken.
Step 1 — issue overdue fine
Revenue NSW will issue an overdue fine, giving you a further 28 days to pay the fine and adding a $65 enforcement fee.
Step 2 — driving restrictions with Transport for NSW
If you don’t pay within 28 days, Revenue NSW will ask Transport for NSW to suspend your driver licence or cancel your car registration. You will get a notice stating that if you do not pay the fine within 14 days, Transport for NSW will 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 — other action
If you don’t have a car or a licence, and the fine remains unpaid, Revenue NSW can take other recovery action against you (just like regular creditors). See Chapters 14 and 15 of this guide for further information about other enforcement and how to stop it.
Take money from your bank account or wages (Garnishee order)
Revenue NSW can issue an 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 take money from your bank account or wages and send the money 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.
Order the sheriff to take your goods or property and sell them to pay the amount you owe (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 send you an examination notice, which requires you to answer questions and give Revenue NSW information, including documents, about your financial circumstances.
Registering an interest on any land or property you may owe
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.
4.5 Stopping enforcement of fines
There are various options available to stop Revenue NSW recovery actions.
Payment in full
You can stop recovery action immediately by paying the overdue fine and additional recovery costs.
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 repayments 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) restrictions, in certain circumstances, which may include:
- making an upfront payment and entering into a payment plan
- demonstrating a commitment to your payment 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 payment plan to get restrictions lifted and then fail to make a payment, 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, severe financial hardship, or you are under 18, 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 (volunteering), 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
- 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
Revenue NSW may, in limited circumstances, write off fines if you can show that:
- you are experiencing serious financial hardship and are unable to pay your fine
- you have a medical condition or are experiencing a situation such as family violence, that is preventing you from paying your fine, or
- you are unable to pay your fine via a payment plan or Work and Development Order (WDO).
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 fine notices are treated differently in bankruptcy law.
Fine 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) recovery for the duration of bankruptcy, but if Transport for NSW (TfNSW) restrictions 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.
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 recovery 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.