Complaints about Victorian infringements body ‘soar’

Complaints about the body responsible for administering fines in Victoria have soared over the last year, making it the third most complained about agency in the state, an Ombudsman’s report has found.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass says a new IT system was the cause of many of the complaints about Fines Victoria, which replaced Civic Compliance Victoria in December 2017 as part a fines reform program.

Deborah Glass

Poor communication, failure to be flexible when applying discretion and poor handling of complaints also contributed.

It didn’t take long for operations at the new body to go pear-shaped, Ms Glass said, with complaints soon outstripping, and in some cases doubling, what its predecessor had received.

In 2018 the Ombudsman received 605 complaints about Fines Victoria, a 74 per cent increase on the number of complaints received by Civic Compliance.

That figure made Fines Victoria the third most complained-about agency among more than a thousand within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, Ms Glass said. Civic Compliance, by comparison, ranked 7th in 2017.

Complaints related to administrative delays, difficulties making contact, wait times and information sharing.

Among the case studies contained in the report is that of a father who kept getting enforcement letters for his son, who had died. The fines reached $7,600 but the man was unable to contact Fines Victoria to have them withdrawn despite repeated attempts.

In another case a pensioner received a legal letter of demand for $1, and a taxi driver was left without an income for four weeks after his license was suspended for an offence he never committed.

Frustration, anxiety and trauma

Ms Glass said the problems had caused sleepless nights, frustration, anxiety and sometimes trauma.

“The impact of these issues should not be underestimated,” she writes in her report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

“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.”

She noted Fines Victoria had been “candid about its failings” and recognised its performance was less than satfisfactory.

She also noted Fines Victoria was launched before the IT system was fully functional, and that the management of infringements in the state has been beset by a “long history of IT failures”.

The Ombudsman’s office continues to receive complaints about the agency, Ms Glass said.

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

She said Fines Victoria remained under review by the Ombudsman’s  office to see if further investigation was required.

Read the full report here.

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