Who can issue fines?
A fine is a penalty for doing something that you shouldn’t. Most fines are issued by government bodies including the Police, Transit Officers and Local Councils.
Common fines include:
Traffic offences- speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, using your mobile while driving, running a red light etc
Public transport offences- not having a ticket, putting your feet on seats, or vandalising, littering or smoking on trains or busses.
Littering, vandalism, or destruction of public property
Offences relating to animals- barking, animals not registered, not cleaning up after them
Criminal Infringement Notices- on the spot fines for minor criminal offences like offensive behaviour or shoplifting
If you receive a fine you have four options:
Pay the fine
Ask for a review
Choose to go to court
Apply for a Work and Development Order
Don’t just ignore the fine- if you do nothing the cost may go up, you could lose your licence, your car registration could be cancelled, or your belongings may even be seized to cover the debt.
How long do I have to pay?
For most fines you have 21 days to pay. If you don’t pay on time, you will be sent a Penalty Reminder Notice and given a further 28 days to pay. If you still don’t pay further action will be taken (see ‘what happens if I do nothing?’ below).
You don’t have to pay the fine in one go. So long as the fine is fully paid off by the final date shown on the Penalty Reminder Notice, you can make as many smaller payments as you need. The only condition is that each payment must be at least $20.
If any money is still owing after the final date on the Penalty Reminder Notice this debt will be transferred to the State Debt Recovery Office and they will issue an Enforcement Order. They will also charge you an extra $65 fee. Once this has happened, you will need to apply to the SDRO for permission to pay in instalments using the ‘Payment by Instalments’ form on their website (http://www.sdro.nsw.gov.au/lib/docs/forms/sdr_eo_015.pdf ).
If you are on Centrelink payments you can ask to have money taken directly out of your benefit amount each fortnight. You should arrange this as soon as possible by filling in the ‘Early Enforcement to Pay by Instalments’ form on the SDRO website (http://www.sdro.nsw.gov.au/lib/docs/forms/sdr_052.pdf ). If you arrange this before the final due date on the Penalty Reminder Notice you won’t have to pay the $65 fee.
What happens if I ask for a review?
If you feel that the fine was issued by mistake, or there were other circumstances at play you can ask for a review of the fine.
You will need to go to the SDRO website and fill in a ‘Request for a Review of a Penalty Notice’ form (http://www.sdro.nsw.gov.au/lib/docs/forms/sdr_pn_015.pdf). You will also need to send them copies of supporting documents (Police reports, medical reports etc).
The process of going to court can take a long time, and cost a lot of money. If you win, your fine may be dropped or reduced. But if you lose you could have to pay costs on top of the existing fine.
If you are thinking about going to court you should get legal advice.
You apply to go to court using the form on the SDRO website: http://www.sdro.nsw.gov.au/lib/docs/forms/sdr_pn_020.pdf
The Court will send you a Court Attendance Notice which will include the date that you are due in court
The first time you go to court is called the Mention. Here you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If you plead guilty you will be sentenced on the day.
If you plead not guilty the Court will set the date for your next appearance (the Hearing)
At the Hearing both sides present their cases. You will be asked to give evidence, and a number of other witnesses may also be called. Afterwards, the Court will make its decision. If you are found guilty you will be sentenced.
What happens if I choose to do nothing?
If you don’t pay the fine within 21 days of receiving the penalty notice you will be sent a penalty reminder notice. You will then have a further 28 days to pay.
If you still don’t pay, the debt will be transferred to the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO). Another $65 dollars will be added to the cost ($25 if you’re under 18).
The SDRO have the power to:
Cancel your car registration
Cancel your driver’s licence
Come to your house to take your belongings to pay off the debt
Take money out of your wages
You can also be made to do Community Service for as many hours as it takes to pay of the debt.
The SDRO have the power to cancel your licence and registration even if your fine isn’t related to driving.
If your licence or registration have been suspended DO NOT drive.
If you need to be back on the road, but can’t afford to pay your fine, contact the SDRO on 1300 655 805 to arrange a payment plan. As soon as the plan is in place they will lift the suspension. Be aware: if you fail to stick to the payment plan your licence may be re-suspended.
If you have many thousands of dollars of fines and you are having difficulty paying them the first thing you should do is see a financial counsellor. They can give you advice on how to manage your money, and help you to contact the SDRO. There are contact details for local financial counselling services at the end of this document.
You can also:
Apply for a payment plan
Call the SDRO on 1300 655 805 and arrange to pay the debts in instalments.
Apply for a Work Development Order
A Work Development Order lets you do approved activities to work off the fine, rather than having to pay cash.
You might be able to apply for a WDO if you:
have a mental illness or intellectual disability;
have a drug or alcohol addiction; or
are experiencing severe financial hardship.
The types of things that you can do include:
Drug & alcohol rehabilitation
Medical treatment and counselling
If you’re under 25 you can participate in a mentoring program
Things to be aware of:
You can’t apply for a WDO if the court has already made a Community Service Order against you
Once the WDO has been approved you can’t ask for the fine/s to be reviewed, or take the matter to court
To apply, you need to get the support of a sponsor. This can be a doctor, counsellor, social worker, or someone from an approved volunteer or educational organisation. You then need to get them to help you fill in the application form on the SDRO website .
Apply to have the fines written off
If you are experiencing severe financial hardship you can apply to have your fines debt completely written off. It is not an easy process, and the SDRO can wait up to 5 years to see if your circumstances change before your application is approved.
You must be able to show:
That you can’t pay your fines and you will never earn enough to pay them in the future
That you don’t own any land or other property that could be sold to repay the debt
That you are unable to do community service
That you are not eligible to apply for a WDO
Being bankrupt may seem like an easy answer to your problems, but it can have legal consequences. It should only be used as a last resort. Before you file for bankruptcy you should speak with a lawyer and a financial counsellor.
Things to be aware of:
Bankruptcy may not wipe all of your debts. You will still need to pay:
Any debts that a court has ordered you to pay
Any new fines that you receive after you become bankrupt
Being bankrupt can also stop you from getting loans, applying for some jobs, being a director of a company, travelling, or running for office for years to come.
What happens if I get fined in a different state, or I get fined in NSW and then move?
Because all of the different state systems communicate with one another, your fines will follow you when you move. Even if you move overseas, your fines will be waiting for you when you return.
Tony is pulled over for speeding while he and his family are on holidays on the Gold Coast. Since Tony normally lives in NSW, and is going home in a few days, he doesn’t bother to pay it.
He doesn’t hear anything more from the Queensland authorities, so he thinks he’s gotten away with it. Then, 21 days after the fine was due, he receives a letter from the NSW State Debt Recovery Office. They advise him that the debt has been transferred to them, and that he now has 28 days to pay.
State Debt Recovery Office
Ph: 1300 138 118 (Monday to Friday 8.00am to 6.00pm)
Far West Community Legal Centre
5 Chloride St, Broken Hill
Ph: 08 8087 6766
Freecall: 1800 300 036
Warra Warra Legal Service
184-186 Argent Street
Broken Hill NSW 2880
Ph: 08 8087 6766
Fax: 08 8087 6765
Freecall: 1800 812 800
Lifeline Financial Counselling
194 Argent Street
Broken Hill NSW 2880
Ph: 08 8087 7525
Fax: 08 8087 8408
Centacare Financial Counselling
261 Argent St
Broken Hill NSW 2880
Ph: 08 8087 3477
Ph: 1300 888 529
There is a great resource with examples of how to fill in all of the forms relating to fines on the LawAssist website here:
I received a fine- what are my options?
Can I pay by installments?
What happens if I choose to go to court?
The SDRO have suspended my licence- what can I do?
I have lots of unpaid fines. What can I do?
Who can I talk to?
Disclaimer: This information is a general guide to the law. It should not be relied on as legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem you should consult a lawyer.
It applies to people who live in, or are affected by, the law as it applies in NSW, Australia. The information contained in this publication is current at 1 January 2014.