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Part 2: Penalty notices

2.1 Overview

A penalty notice is a fine issued by an authorised officer which contains details of the alleged offence and the monetary penalty attached to that offence.

Even if you can’t afford to pay it upfront, it is best not to ignore a penalty notice. If you do, it just gets more expensive and more complicated. As well as the amount of money you owe increasing, you could have your:

  • driver licence suspended
  • car registration cancelled
  • bank account or wages garnisheed (this means Revenue NSW take money out of every pay)
  • property taken by the Sheriff, or
  • taken to the Local Court for an examination summons or charge put on your land

Tip

Even if you don’t think you can afford to pay a penalty notice, there are ways to deal with it, which will stop further action being taken against you. In some cases you can even do voluntary activities to pay the fine. [* see Parts 2.2–2.10]

If you don’t pay your fine in full and on time and you haven’t made any other arrangement to pay it, Revenue NSW considers you to be a “fine defaulter”. Default means that you did not meet an obligation.

If you are in fine default, there are extra costs for fine enforcement. This is the money they charge you for chasing up the fine. They include:

  • $65 to Revenue NSW for a fine enforcement order ($25 if you are under 18)
  • $40 to Transport for NSW for certain enforcement action, such as suspension of your driver licence, and
  • $65 to the Sheriff for any enforcement action by their office.

When you get a penalty notice, read it carefully and make sure you know when payment is due. If you do nothing about the penalty notice within that time, Revenue NSW will send you a penalty reminder notice to the address provided by the issuing authority or the address recorded with Transport for NSW, and you have a further 28 days to deal with the penalty notice.

Tip

You must let Service NSW know when you change your mailing and residential addresses within 14 days. This means when you get a fine, it comes to the right address so you can deal with it. You can do this online or drop in to your closest office. Service NSW will give you a sticker to put on your licence or photo card so it’s up to date.

Your options to deal with a penalty notice are:

  • Pay the fine [* see Part 2.2]
  • Organise a payment plan [* see Part 2.3]
  • Agree to add the fine to an existing payment plan [* See Part 2.3]
  • Apply for a 50% reduction of a penalty notice fine if you are on a Centrelink or Veterans benefit [* See Part 2.4]
  • Ask for an internal review if there are special or extenuating circumstances [* see Part 2.5 and Part 2.6]
  • Nominate another driver. If the penalty notice relates to a parking or traffic offence issued to you as the registered owner of the vehicle, and you were not the driver of the vehicle, you can apply online telling Revenue NSW the name and address of the responsible driver. The penalty notice will be withdrawn from your name and a new notice will be issued to the correct driver. [* see Part 2.7]
  • Decide to have the matter heard in a Local Court [* see Part 2.8]
  • Apply for a Work and Development Order (WDO) [* see Parts 2.10 and 5.4]

If you don’t deal with the penalty notice by the due date on the penalty reminder notice, Revenue NSW will send you an enforcement order and an additional $65 will be added to the fine amount. [* see Part 4]

2.2 Paying the fine

If you do not want to dispute a fine and you can pay it, then it is best to pay by the due date to avoid additional enforcement costs. Once a fine has been paid in full the matter is finalised and no further enforcement action occurs.

Paying the fine does not mean that you are admitting that you are guilty, however bear in mind that some traffic matters will stay on your record once you have paid the fine. These can be brought up in court later if you are being sentenced for other driving offences. If you pay either a penalty notice or penalty reminder notice you are accepting responsibility for the fine. If the offence incurs demerit points with Transport for NSW, these will be applied once payment is made. This will happen if payment is made in part or in full. [* See Part 7]

Note

You can apply for early enforcement as soon as you get a penalty notice. This means your penalty notice will be issued as an enforcement order, without the $65 fee, so you can pay by instalment or a work and development order if you are eligible.

[* see Part 2.9 and Part 2.10]

2.3 Payment plans

If you can pay the full amount within three months

You will first need to pay $40 or one-sixth of your fine, whichever is greater, before the fine reminder due date.

When Revenue NSW receive your first payment, they’ll set up fortnightly payments.

They will then send you a copy of the plan which tells you how much to pay and when to pay.

Under this plan, you must pay up to five more instalments of at least $40 until you clear your debt.

If you miss one of these payments you must immediately pay your fine in full, as well as a $65 late fee.

To make sure you don’t miss a payment, you can set up a direct debit by calling Revenue NSW on 1300 492 392. You can pay directly from your bank account or by Visa or Mastercard.

If you need longer than three months to pay

You can set up a payment plan to pay over a longer period on your fine or overdue fine. You may also be able to have your fine added to an existing payment plan.

To set up a payment plan for a fine:

  • contact Revenue NSW on 1300 138 118 before the due date or
  • download and complete a payment plan application form at:

To set up a payment plan for an overdue fine:

You can also choose to have your instalments deducted from your Centrelink benefit by choosing Centrepay as your payment method.

Sharon’s story

Sharon was driving home from her weekly yoga class when she heard her mobile phone ring. Without thinking she answered it and spoke to her daughter. A police officer saw her and pulled her over and fined her. Sharon receives a parenting payment from Centrelink and doesn’t have enough money saved to pay the fine in full. She sought advice from Nick, a volunteer lawyer at a community legal centre. Nick told Sharon that she could phone Revenue NSW to arrange early enforcement with a payment plan. That way she wouldn’t have to pay additional enforcement costs and could pay a small amount every fortnight until the fine is paid. Sharon phoned Revenue NSW the following day and was able to set this up. Sharon now has $30 per fortnight paid directly from her Centrelink payments to Revenue NSW. This will continue until the fine is paid in full.

2.4 50% reduction in the fine amount

2.4.1  Who is eligible to apply for a 50% reduction?

You may be eligible if you:

  • receive a Centrelink or Veterans benefit
  • are suffering financial hardship
  • are not suitable for a payment plan with Revenue NSW
  • are not eligible for a Work and Development Order (WDO).

2.4.2  When can’t I apply for a 50% reduction?

A reduction will not be granted if you are able to deal with the fine in another way, such as a payment plan or WDO.

A reduction may not apply to:

  • penalties that have already been paid, enforced, withdrawn or resolved in any other manner
  • penalties for which the penalty reminder notice has expired
  • court fines (including fines that originated from a penalty notice)
  • fines related to voting or jury duty
  • fines issued to a body corporate
  • penalties for significant offences listed on the Revenue NSW website
  • further fines from a repeat offender.
  • Some significant offences that are usually not eligible for a reduction include:
  • speeding over the sign posted speed limit
  • offences in school zones
  • heavy vehicle offences
  • seatbelt offences
  • mobile phone offences
  • red light offences
  • parking offences which attract demerit points, like parking in a disabled parking area
  • driving offences related to alcohol and drug use
  • animal offences relating to dangerous dogs
  • littering offences relating to fire safety hazards
  • pollution offences including asbestos offences
  • COVID-19 offences
  • criminal offences

Note that you may still apply for a reduction for a significant offence because Revenue NSW may still consider granting a reduction.

2.4.3  How do I apply for a 50% reduction?

You will need to apply for a reduction over the phone with Revenue NSW.

You will need to specifically ask for the 50% reduction because Revenue NSW may not offer it to you.

You will need to tell Revenue NSW why you are not able to pay for the fine in full. For example, you have other existing debt with Revenue NSW.

You may be asked to confirm your government benefit by providing:

  • your Customer Reference Number (CRN); or
  • a copy of your healthcare card.

Revenue NSW may also ask for other supporting documents including:

  • copies of pay slips;
  • a statement of income from Centrelink; or
  • copies of bank statements.

Another person can apply for a reduction on your behalf. They will need to provide Revenue NSW with a written authority to apply for a reduction from you or be a registered advocate with Revenue NSW.

2.4.4  What happens if my application for a 50% reduction is approved?

If your application is approved, you will receive written notification and be given options on how to deal with the rest of your fine (such as through a payment plan).

Although the fine itself will be reduced by 50%, this will not change the status of other penalties you have incurred such as demerit points, driver licence sanctions, suspensions, cancellations or disqualifications.

2.4.5  What will happen if my application for a 50% reduction is refused?

You will still receive a written notice of the decision along with further information on your options for dealing with the fine (such as through a WDO or a payment plan).

If your application is refused, you can seek a review of the decision through Revenue NSW or the court.

2.5 Applying for an internal review

If you believe a fine should not have been issued to you, in certain circumstances you can ask for it to be reviewed. You can make a request for review of a fine if:

  • You believe there has been a mistake in issuing the fine
  • There is an issue of mistaken identity
  • There are exceptional circumstances relating to the issuing of the fine that need to be considered. [* see Part 2.6]
  • The person who was fined has an intellectual disability, mental illness, cognitive impairment or is homeless and:
  • did not understand that their conduct constituted an offence or
  • was unable to control their conduct.

A review of a penalty notice can be requested even if it has been paid or part paid.

If the fine has been paid in full and no reminder has been served, then an application for review must be made within 60 days from the date the penalty notice was served.

To request a review of your fine, go to: www.revenue.nsw.gov.au/fines-and-fees/request-a-review. To login, you’ll need to enter the penalty or infringement notice number and the date of the offence.

If you’ve lost your fine and are unable to log in, contact Revenue NSW on 1300 138 118 or complete the online enquiry form.

If the review is unsuccessful Revenue NSW will send you a new penalty reminder and you have the option to elect to have the fine heard in court. You need to submit a court election by the due date on the penalty reminder notice.
[* see Part 2.8]

Internal Review Guidelines can be viewed online.

Read more about the documents Revenue NSW will accept as supporting evidence on the Review Assist page.

2.6 Telling Revenue NSW about special or extenuating circumstances

If you believe there are special circumstances in your case, or you want to ask for leniency, you can request a review of your penalty notice. You can apply online or you can complete a form and send it to Revenue NSW. You must add supporting documents if you are asking to have the penalty notice withdrawn. Read more on the Revenue NSW website: www.revenue.nsw.gov.au/fines-and-fees/request-a-review

The Revenue NSW Review Guidelines explain what evidence you need to provide when you ask for this type of review.

Revenue NSW will review the fine if:

  • There was a medical emergency. For example, taking someone who needs urgent medical attention to a hospital
  • The offence was committed because you feared for your safety
  • There was a mechanical breakdown. For example, your car was parked in a no parking zone
  • You have had a good driving record for the last 10 years
  • Revenue NSW will not consider applications for leniency for some more serious offences, where safety is an issue, for example:
  • Excessive speeding. This means speeding more than 20 km/h over the limit
  • Using a mobile phone while driving
  • Ignoring RailCorp safety notices
  • Demerit point offences in school zones
  • Proceeding through a red light

If Revenue NSW does not withdraw the penalty notice, they will tell you in writing and will also send you a new penalty reminder notice. Further time will be given to pay the fine or make a court election.

David’s story

David and Lucy were at home watching TV when Lucy started to experience severe stomach pain. David immediately rushed Lucy to hospital. On the way to hospital David’s vehicle was captured by a speed camera exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/h. David got Lucy to the hospital and she was admitted with acute appendicitis. Fortunately, she was able to receive treatment in time and made a full recovery. One week later David received a penalty notice in the mail. He went onto the Revenue NSW website and completed a request for review form online, explaining that he had been rushing his wife Lucy to hospital as she had appendicitis. He was able to provide a report from a doctor confirming that Lucy had been admitted to hospital shortly after the offence occurred. Revenue NSW reviewed the fine and withdrew it because David was responding to a medical emergency at the time of the offence.

2.7 Nominating another driver

If you own the vehicle involved but were not driving or in control of it at the time of the offence, you can fill out and submit an online nomination through MyPenalty to let Revenue NSW know who was driving the vehicle, or who owns it.

The form can be completed online through the Revenue NSW website

You can nominate another driver at any time, even after enforcement. As long as Revenue NSW has enough time to transfer the fine to the correct driver. When you submit the details online to Revenue NSW the fine should be withdrawn and a new penalty notice issued in the name of the nominated driver.

It is a criminal offence to provide false or misleading information on a nomination. There are significant penalties for this offence including fines.

You can’t use the nomination process if you were given an on-the-spot fine by a police officer, a rail transit officer or another authorised government officer.

Self-nomination as a driver

You can nominate yourself as the person in charge of a vehicle at the time an offence for which a penalty notice has been issued. You can let Revenue NSW know your details through:

  • Sending a letter to Revenue NSW with the details of the offence and your details
  • Advising online using the MyPenalty portal on the Revenue NSW website – you will need the penalty notice number and the date of the offence
  • Sending an email through the Revenue NSW contact us page on their website.

2.8 Who and how to tell about a change of address?

As well as friends and family, phone, gas and electricity suppliers, and anyone else who sends bills or money to you, you need to let the following agencies know when you change your address:

Transport for NSW

After you have lived at a new address for 14 days fill in the application online at:
www.service.nsw.gov.au/transaction/change-address-and-contact-details-driver-licence-vehicle-registration-or-other-road

Tel: 132 213

Visit a Service NSW office.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and New South Wales Electoral Commission (NSWEC)

After you have lived at a new address for 28 days:

Fill in an electoral enrolment form and send it to your Divisional AEC office or scan it and email it to info@aec.gov.au. You can get the forms and prepaid envelopes from an AEC office, the NSWEC, post offices, or your state or federal MP’s office, or from:

www.aec.gov.au

AEC Tel: 132 326

NSWEC Tel: 135 736

And because we all forget to tell someone, we can also do this:

Australia Post

Before you move to a new address:

Fill in and lodge an Application to Redirect Mail at any Australia Post outlet. You can also download the form from the Australia Post website.

Tel: 137 678

Note

If you have sold or given away a vehicle, it is your responsibility to notify Transport for NSW. Make sure you get the new owner’s full name and driver licence number. If you do not do this, you could be held responsible for penalty notices incurred after you have disposed of the vehicle. You can complete a notice of disposal online if the buyer is a NSW resident with a NSW driver licence or download the form

Call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 for free legal help if you get a penalty notice after selling a motor vehicle.

2.9 Deciding to go to court

You can elect to go to court if you:

  • Believe you are not guilty or
  • Believe the penalty is too harsh.

Before making a court election, you may wish to consider applying for a review of the penalty (see above), as it is a lot simpler than going to court and you will still be able to make a court election if the review is unsuccessful, provided you make the court election before the penalty reminder notice due date.
[* see Part 2.5] To go to court you can apply online or fill out a court election form, go to:
www.revenue.nsw.gov.au/fines-and-fees/go-to-court and send it to Revenue NSW.

Court elections before the fine is overdue

You should apply to go to court before the due date on your penalty reminder notice.

If you have already paid the fine, you have 90 days from the date the penalty was issued to apply. If you’re not sure of the due date, contact Revenue NSW on 1300 138 118.

If you do not apply to go to court by the due date, you may need to go through a more difficult process, which involves proving you were unable to request to go to court before the due date.

When Revenue NSW receives the court election form, they will send you a court attendance notice telling you when to go to court.

It’s a good idea to get legal advice before you do any of this. The maximum fine a court can give you may be higher than the amount in the penalty notice, and the court can order you to pay some court costs as well. A lawyer can help you decide if this is the right option for you.

For free information and advice contact LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529. LawAccess NSW can refer you to your closest free legal service [* see Part 9].

You can also visit your local public library or go online to: www.legalanswers.sl.nsw.gov.au to find plain English legal information about fines [* see Part 9].

Tip

It is not always clear exactly what offence the fine relates to. To find out, ask Revenue NSW or the issuing authority for more information about the offence.

You can then visit:
www.legislation.nsw.gov.au and follow the links to that section of that Act and check the minimum and maximum penalties for the offence. These will be set out as “penalty units”. In 2021, a penalty unit is $110, so if the maximum fine is 10 penalty units, that means it is $1,100.

Court election after your fine is overdue

You can also apply to have your overdue fine referred to the court and heard by a magistrate. However, you will also need to explain how you were hindered from acting on the original fine before it became overdue and supply supporting evidence for the reason, including:

  • You didn’t know you had been issued with a penalty notice until you got the enforcement order, but only if the court election is made within reasonable time after receiving the enforcement order
  • You were prevented from doing anything about a penalty notice due to accident, illness or misadventure. For example, because you have been homeless or have a mental illness, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, but only if the application is made within a reasonable time after these factors ceased to prevent you from taking action
  • The penalty reminder notice was returned to the sender undelivered and notice of the enforcement order was later received by you at a different address
  • There is doubt about whether you are liable for the penalty and there was no previous opportunity to obtain a review
  • Under the circumstances, there is another good reason why the application should be granted.

If your court election for an overdue fine (enforcement order) is not successful you have the right to appeal to the Local Court. You have 28 days from the date of Revenue NSW’s decision to send in your application to the Local Court and there is an application fee for each enforcement order you are appealing. The Registrar of the Local Court may waive this fee if you ask for this when submitting your form.

To appeal a Revenue NSW decision to the Local Court you need to:

  • use a general ‘application notice to the Local Court’ form available online. You can download this form in PDF to fill out by hand or Word to fill out on your computer.
  • you can find this form here – www.localcourt.nsw.gov.au – click on the Forms and fees button and you will find the form under the heading Applications to the court.
  • on the form in the orders sought section you need to write ‘Appeal against refusal application by Commissioner, Section 50 Fines Act’
  • submit the form with the Revenue NSW letter stating that they refused your request to court elect your fine to your Local Court Registry
  • you can request for the fee to be waived at this time also
  • the Registry will give you a court attendance notice with all the details you need to turn up to court

if your application to allow you to court elect your fine is successful, you will get another court attendance notice to take your case to court. You will then get the opportunity to have your say.

if your application is unsuccessful, Revenue NSW will be notified and you will be issued with a new penalty reminder notice for payment of the fine.

This process applies to penalty notices only. For information on appealing a court fine [* see Part 3].

2.10 Applying for a Work and Development Order (WDO)

If you are under 18 years of age, homeless, experiencing serious financial hardship, mental illness, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment or have a serious addiction, you may be eligible to pay off your fine through a WDO. A WDO means you do an approved activity with a WDO sponsor organisation or health practitioner to pay off all or part of your fines, such as unpaid work, education and personal development courses, counselling or treatment programs. [* see Part 5.4]

Isabelle’s story

Things were finally looking up for Isabelle and her two kids Sarah and Leo. After all the trouble they had had in the city Isabelle had made a tree change, and moved to a small rural town where she had been able to get a job working as a receptionist for a local vet. Two years earlier she had managed to leave an abusive relationship she had been in since she was 16. She had just turned 29. There was just one problem: her driver licence was suspended.

When she saw Don, a lawyer at a free advice service, she explained that she didn’t have a driver licence because of unpaid fines and enforcement costs totalling more than $3,000. Her former partner, and the father of her two children, had been violent and abusive and she was terrified of him. Isabelle had a car during the relationship, which was registered in her name, but mostly he drove it, leaving Isabelle and the kids to use public transport. He received fines for speeding and parking offences and never paid them. She was so afraid of him that she never filled out a Statutory Declaration to say she hadn’t been driving at the time of the offence. With two school-aged children and a new job she really needed her licence so she could get them to school and then get to work.

Don helped her to complete court elections so the fines could go before a court. In support of her application Isabelle was able to provide a detailed report from her psychologist as well as some support letters from domestic violence workers who had known Isabelle when she was trying to escape the relationship. She was also able to provide police records and a statement she had made to them about her former partner. After considering all of the evidence, Revenue NSW wrote to Isabelle to say that the fines had been withdrawn, which meant it wasn’t necessary for her to go to court to challenge the fines.