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Wrongful fines and licence suspensions: Fines Victoria creating anxiety and frustration, says Ombudsman

The problems at Victoria’s new fine agency demonstrate the risks of operating without a fit-for-purpose IT system.

Errors and delays at Fines Victoria have meant citizens have had their licences wrongly suspended or been treated as if they are liable for fines they are not responsible for, the Victorian Ombudsman has found.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said her office had been inundated with complaints about the new body since its establishment in late 2017.

She received 605 complaints about Fines Victoria in 2018, a 74% increase on the number of complaints received about its predecessor agency, Civic Compliance Victoria. Fines Victoria came into existence on 31 December 2017 to administer all fines in the state.

“Many complaints were about delay in the processing of nominations, completing reviews and implementing payment plans,” Glass said.

“Others were about call wait times and difficulties making contact, many by people deeply anxious about the impact of delays.

“The impact of these issues should not be underestimated. People had their licences wrongly suspended, or were treated as liable for substantial fines, when they had committed no offence.

“Payment plans by people facing serious financial hardship were not being administered properly. The worry and frustration were then compounded by people’s inability to get through to the agency and have their complaints fairly resolved. They plainly were causing sleepless nights; people told us of frustration, anxiety and sometimes, trauma.”

The report, released Wednesday, outlines a series of frustrating cases faced by citizens dealing with the agency, including:

  • A father who kept receiving enforcement letters for $7600 of fines incurred by his late son. The father tried to contact Fines Victoria on several occasions to have the fines withdrawn, but he was either put through to an automated service, put on hold, or complaints he made online went unanswered.
  • A pensioner from country Victoria who thought he had paid off his infringement via a payment plan but who received a legal letter of demand for $1. To add to his frustration, Fines Victoria’s systems didn’t allow him to pay the $1 fine online or at his local post office.
  • A taxi owner and driver who went without wages for a month when his licence was suspended. The taxi was shared amongst three drivers and one of the other drivers admitted to committing the traffic offence. Fines Victoria initially refused to accept the taxi owner’s form nominating the other driver — saying it was received one day past the deadline — only to accept the form, and cancel his suspension, some weeks later. By then, the taxi driver had served a month’s suspension.

The problems have arisen in part due to a failed IT upgrade, which caused Fines Victoria to begin operating in late 2017 with only partial IT functionality.

But the IT problems started a decade earlier. In 2007, the Victorian government engaged Tenix Solutions to design, build and implement a new infringement management enforcement system to be delivered in 2009. The agreement was varied twice and the delivery date was extended. In March 2015 the government terminated the agreement without a product being delivered — after spending $60 million, or twice the amount originally budgeted for the project.

This has meant Fines Victoria has been using a legacy system not fit for the changed legislation which also brought the agency into being.

In October 2018, Fines Victoria said its system would be fully functional by February 2019, and it has since revised this deadline to June 2019.

The current system does not support some processes required by Fines Victoria, so the agency either put certain cases on hold or had to use time-consuming work-arounds.

The agency says it has put significant resources into addressing the IT challenges and eliminating backlogs.

“But it’s not good enough. We have pointed out that the issues are not solely caused by IT failures. Some stem from poor communication, inflexible exercise of discretion, or poor handling of complaints,” Glass said.

“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.”

Glass said she was keeping Fines Victoria under review to see whether further investigation is warranted.

“We continue to receive complaints, and it is too early to tell whether any improvements have had an effect,” she said.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.