Father Issued $7,600 In Fines Over Dead Son
The Ombudsman has launched a scathing attack on Fines Victoria after it received a whopping 605 complaints about the state's main fine agency in just the last year.
Errors and delays made by the fines body had led Australians to have their licenses wrongly suspended and to think they were liable for offenses they had not committed, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said on Wednesday.
She said her office had been "inundated" with complaints since Fines Australia was established less than two years ago, largely relating to lengthy delays in processing, completing reviews and implementing payment plans.
There was a 74 percent increase in complaints compared to Fines Victoria's predecessor Civic Compliance Victoria, Glass said.
"The worry and frustration were then compounded by people’s inability to get through to the agency and have their complaints fairly resolved," she said, while tabling her report in state parliament on Wednesday.
"They plainly were causing sleepless nights; people told us of frustration, anxiety and sometimes, trauma.”
One of the report's 13 case studies included evidence from a father who repeatedly received enforcement letters for fines adding up to $7,600.
The fines were meant for his son, who had tragically died.
The father's multiple attempts to contact Fines Victoria and have the fines withdrawn were either met with an automated service, put on hold, or simply never answered when made online, the Ombudsman found.
Another case study focused on a pensioner from country Victoria who believed he had paid off his infringement via a payment plan but received a legal letter demanding $1.
According to Glass, Fines Victoria's system would then not allow him to pay the fine either online or at his local post office.
Complaints of unfair license suspensions were also made to the Ombudsman, including from one taxi owner and driver who went without wages for a month due to a suspended license for a traffic offense he did not commit.
The taxi he drove, which was registered under his name, was shared with two other drivers, one of whom had admitted to committing the traffic offense.
According to the report, Fines Victoria initially refused to accept a form nominating the other driver, saying it was received past the deadline.
By the time the agency finally contacted the driver and informed him the suspension would be lifted, he had already lost a month's earnings.
"When we make a mistake, we pay. When they make a mistake, we pay. That is not fair," the driver said in his complaint to the Ombudsman.
"I’m very lucky that I’m only supporting myself but can you imagine someone who has four or five kids and the family relies on his ability to earn an income."
Glass said it was simply "not good enough" and refuted the agency's claim that much of the errors were caused by IT challenges and backlogs from consolidating more than 21 million files.
"We have pointed out that the issues are not solely caused by IT failures," Glass said.
"Some stem from poor communication, inflexible exercise of discretion, or poor handling of complaints."
“While these are, sadly, perennial themes in many agencies, if the system is failing it is even more important to get the human element right.”
10 daily understands that on average, Fines Victoria receives more than $3 million in payments through its website every week.
The agency currently issues approximately 24,000 notices every day, including for infringements, penalty reminders and notices of final demand.
In a statement to 10 daily, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Community Safety said they understood the delays have been "extremely frustrating".
The spokesperson said the agency had reduced backlog by 535,000 matters since July last year.
"We want to apologise for any undue stress that these issues have caused Victorians," the spokesperson said.
"No one who has been unfairly affected by the issues we've experienced with Fines Victoria will be penalised as a result."
Fines Victoria will be kept under review pending further investigation as the Ombudsman continues receiving complaints.
Featured Image: Getty Images