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Part 5: Responding to Revenue NSW enforcement action

5.1 Overview

If you have been sent a fine enforcement order and you want to avoid further Revenue NSW enforcement actions, you can do one of these things:

  • Pay the fine [* see Part 5.2]
  • Apply to Revenue NSW for a payment plan [* see Part 5.3]
  • Apply to Revenue NSW for a Work and Development Order (WDO) [* see Part 5.4]
  • Apply for a stay of the enforcement order [* see Part 5.5]
  • Apply to Revenue NSW for an internal review by following the same process as you do for penalty notices [* see Part 2.5]
  • Apply to Revenue NSW for court election if you can prove why you didn’t deal with the fine before it became overdue [* see Part 2.9]
  • Apply to Revenue NSW for the fine to be waived or written off [* see Part 5.7]
  • If Revenue NSW has refused an application for write off or payment plan, apply to the Hardship Review Board (HRB) [* see Part 5.8]
  • Apply for remission of the fine [* see Part 5.9] or
  • Consider bankruptcy. [* see Part 5.10]

5.2 Paying the fine

Once you pay the outstanding fine debt and enforcement costs no more enforcement action will be taken.

5.3 Setting up a payment plan

A payment plan can be set up by contacting Revenue NSW. This can be done by you directly or through an advocate.[* see Part 9]

The payment plan can be to:

  • make one lump sum payment and pay the rest by instalments, or
  • pay it all by instalments.

If Revenue NSW accepts your payment plan application, you will be granted an extension of time – enough to pay off your fines according to the plan.

5.3.1  The payment plan application process

To apply to enter into a payment plan you can:

  • complete a written application
  • apply online through the MyPenalty or MyEnforcement portal on the Revenue NSW website
  • contact Revenue NSW by phone on 1300 655 805.

You should do all this before the due date on the fine enforcement order (to avoid further enforcement action), but you can put in a payment plan application at any time.

It is important that your application is realistic – it’s better for you and for Revenue NSW if you set up a plan you can manage rather than one that is so hard you are likely to default on it.

If you have defaulted on previous payment plan arrangements or receive a new enforcement order and are in arrears on your existing payment plan, Revenue NSW may request an increased payment plan amount or lump sum payment.

5.3.2  When a payment plan application has been approved

If your application is approved, Revenue NSW will send you a payment plan which tells you:

  • how much you have to pay
  • the dates when you have to make payments
  • how to make the payments including an option to set up direct debit from your bank account and
  • what enforcement orders are included in the payment plan.

Setting up a payment plan should mean that enforcement action stops and suspensions on your driver licence or car registration will be lifted. [* see Part 5.10]

5.3.3 Payment plans using Centrepay

If you are on a Centrelink or Veterans benefit, you can have your payment plan instalments automatically deducted from your fortnightly payments through the Centrepay program. Also, you do not need to wait until the fines have got as far as enforcement orders to set up a payment plan using Centrepay – you can do it as soon as you get a penalty notice or court fine. [* see Parts 2.3 and 3.2]

To set up deductions using the Centrepay program, contact Revenue NSW or fill in and send them the Payment Plan Application. The second page of the application contains a Centrepay deduction authorisation.

You can also set up your court fine Centrepay payments through the court registry. Ask the registry staff for the form.

5.3.4  If you default on your payment plan or get another enforcement order

If you miss an instalment payment, the rest of the fines become payable immediately and enforcement action can be taken. However, if you make the payment within one week of the date the payment is due, you will not be in default.

So, if you:

  • Default on a payment plan
  • Are going to default on a payment, or
  • Have been sent another fine enforcement order.

Let Revenue NSW know immediately and, if necessary, apply to set up a payment plan that fits better with your circumstances.

Any Revenue NSW decision about your payment plan can be reviewed by the Hardship Review Board (HRB). The HRB can direct Revenue NSW to:

  • make, revoke (undo) or vary a WDO or payment plan; or
  • write off all or part of an unpaid fine.

For more information on making an application to the HRB. [* see Part 5.7]

5.3.5 How much can I afford to pay?

If you are going to set up a payment plan with Revenue NSW you need to work out how much you can afford for each repayment. One way to do this is to speak to a financial counsellor for free.

A financial counsellor can:

  • work out exactly what your financial situation is
  • help you understand and fill in the application form
  • advise you about ways you can manage your money
  • work out a budget and
  • help negotiate with people you owe money to.

To find out details of free and accredited financial counsellors in NSW, contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 or go online to: financialrights.org.au/self-help-centre/financial-counsellor-search-tool to find your closest financial counsellor.

5.4 Work and Development Orders (WDOs)

The Work and Development Order (WDO) Program is a world-first fine reduction program for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. WDOs allow eligible people to clear (pay off) outstanding NSW fines by doing activities like: unpaid work, courses, treatment programs and other activities with an approved organisation or registered health practitioner. The WDO Scheme is an innovative response to fine default and a good example of collaboration between government, legal, health and community sectors.

Until the WDO Program was introduced, options for disadvantaged people with no capacity to pay their fines were very limited, leading to a vicious cycle of unrecoverable debt, enforcement action, sanctions and compounding disadvantage, with little or no benefit to the wider community.

The WDO Program offers vulnerable people a way to pay off their fines in ways that are achievable for them and good for the community.

For an excellent overview of the benefits of the WDO Scheme we recommend these short films produced by Legal Aid NSW and the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT):

  • Work and Development Orders: Breaking the cycle of fine debt (2012)
  • Work and Development Orders: A deadly way to clear your fine debt (2013) (for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities).
  • Both videos can be viewed on the Legal Aid NSW YouTube channel (find the Fines and WDOs Playlist)

5.4.1 What is a WDO?

Work and Development Orders allow eligible people to clear (pay off) their fines by doing activities like unpaid work, courses, counselling, mentoring (if under 25) or treatment programs. Activities must be undertaken with an approved WDO sponsor.
[* see Part 5.4.5]

Revenue NSW enforcement action stops when the WDO is approved and Transport for NSW restrictions, such as driver licence suspension, are lifted immediately.

5.4.2 Who is eligible for a WDO?

You may be eligible for a WDO if you:

  • Are under 18 years of age or
  • Are experiencing serious financial hardship or
  • Receive a Centrelink or Veterans benefit or
  • Are homeless or
  • Have intellectual disability or cognitive impairment or
  • Have a mental illness or
  • Have a serious addiction to drugs, alcohol or other volatile substances (in which case you must do drug or alcohol treatment and/or counselling as your WDO activity if that is your only eligibility).

You only need to meet one eligibility criteria to do a WDO.

Tip

Definitions of the terms referred to in this resource and proof requirements for a WDO are set out in more detail in the Work and Development Order Guidelines 2017. Find them on the Revenue NSW website: www.revenue.nsw.gov.au/help-centre/resources-library/gf001.pdf or contact LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 to have them explained to you.

5.4.3  What activities can be done under a WDO?

A WDO allows you to do an activity or undertake a treatment program instead of paying money for your fine. Activities can include:

  • Unpaid work
  • Education, training or life skills courses
  • Counselling (includes case management)
  • Financial counselling
  • Medical or mental health treatment programs
  • Drug or alcohol treatment or
  • Mentoring programs (for young people under 25).

Joanne’s story

Joanne is 17 and on Youth Allowance. She’s been couch surfing for a few months because of problems at home. Joanne has fines of $600 for catching trains without a ticket and driving as an unaccompanied learner. She wants to clear her fines so she can get her licence.

Joanne can get a WDO because she is homeless. She is doing some programs at her local youth centre, including a barista course, and is in a mentoring program. Joanne can clear her fines and learn some new skills at the same time.

5.4.4  How is a fine paid off under a WDO?

The rate that a WDO activity reduces a fine debt is set out in the table below. The maximum amount that a fines debt can be reduced each month is $1,000.

You can only have one WDO open at a time. You can do multiple activities in a WDO up to $1,000 a month.

WDO Activity

Some examples

Rate

Courses

Courses at TAFE, university or college.

Life skills programs like cooking, gardening, anger management, positive parenting or learning to drive programs.

Training courses in computer skills or job preparation.

$50 per hour

Counselling (includes case management)

Individual therapy with a counsellor or psychologist to improve mental health, emotional or behavioural issues.

Family counselling.

Group counselling for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault or support groups for women with postnatal depression.

Financial counselling.

Case management meetings with a social worker.

$50 per hour

Unpaid work

Volunteering at a charity organisation, neighbourhood centre or community garden.

$30 per hour

Medical or mental health treatment

Following a written treatment plan from a health practitioner.

Seeing a psychologist or mental health nurse under a GP’s mental health care plan.

Up to $1,000 per month

Drug and alcohol treatment

Drug and alcohol counselling.

Residential rehabilitation programs.

Supervised outpatient detoxification programs.

Up to $1,000 per month

Being mentored (a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor)

Mentoring program at a youth service.

Working one-on-one with an experienced person, such as an Elder, to achieve your goals

Mentoring for ex-prisoners to provide post-release support.

Up to $1,000 per month

5.4.5 How to get a WDO

The first step in getting a WDO is to link up with a sponsor. A sponsor is an organisation or health practitioner that is registered to participate in the WDO Program and who is willing to supervise activities under a WDO. WDO sponsors include:

  • Non-profit organisations like neighbourhood centres, charities, youth services, drug and alcohol services, some job active providers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations
  • For profit organisations like job active providers, training organisations and allied health professionals like mental health social workers
  • Government agencies like Juvenile Justice, Corrective Services, education providers and health services
  • Registered Health Practitioners like psychologists, doctors, and nurses

A WDO starts when the sponsor lodges an online application for you with Revenue NSW.

Tip

A sponsor organisation cannot charge you to do a WDO. However, you may be asked to pay the normal fees paid by all participants like TAFE fees.

Noel’s story

Noel is an Aboriginal man with a young family. He has unpaid fines dating back to 1998 when he was fined as a kid for skateboarding in a prohibited place. Noel wants his licence back so he can get to work and drive his family around. He is accepted into the WDO program at the local Aboriginal Land Council doing voluntary work. He does seven hours every Friday, which equals $840 a month off his debt. Noel gets his licence back as soon as his WDO is approved and he completes his WDO in just over three months.

5.4.6 Finding a WDO sponsor

If you are working with a support service or health practitioner, they may already be participating in the WDO Program and you could ask them to sponsor you. If they are not already registered, ask if they would be willing to lodge an application to become an approved WDO sponsor. [* see Part 5.4.7]

If you are not already working with a suitable service or health practitioner, there is a list of WDO sponsors on Revenue NSW’s website or you can call the Revenue NSW WDO hotline on 1300 478 879.

If you are having difficulty finding a sponsor in your area, Legal Aid NSW have a WDO Service which may be able to help with a referral. To find a service near you call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 or send an email to wdo@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.

5.4.7 How to become a WDO sponsor

Becoming an approved WDO sponsor is straightforward. The WDO Guidelines set out the criteria and supporting documentation to be submitted with the application. You apply online.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a WDO sponsor, Legal Aid NSW have a specialist WDO Service which offers free advice, assistance and education to organisations and health practitioners interested in participating the WDO Scheme. To contact your local WDO Service:

5.4.8 A WDO Plan

Once you have found a WDO sponsor you will need to get together to work out a plan of activities for you to do for your WDO. This might be one activity or a combination of different activities. You may be doing all the activities with the sponsor organisation or they may refer you out to do some of them with another organisation. The maximum amount you can pay off is $1,000 a month.

5.4.9 Completing a WDO

There is no limit on the amount of fine debt that can be cleared with a WDO. It is possible to pay off large fine debts with the support of your sponsor.

If you have completed a WDO and still owe money to Revenue NSW, you will need to make an arrangement to pay the balance of the debt. You, or your advocate, can contact Revenue NSW about entering into a payment plan [* see Part 5.3] applying for another WDO or applying for a write off of the remaining balance. [* see Part 5.6]

If you do nothing about paying the remaining balance, Revenue NSW will start enforcing the fine [* see Part 4], which may result in additional costs and Transport for NSW restrictions.

5.4.10 Varying or revoking a WDO

Revenue NSW can vary or revoke a WDO at any time if your circumstances change.

Revenue NSW may change your WDO if:

  • You get more fines and you want to include them in your WDO
  • You want to undertake new or different activities (if your sponsor is approved for those activities and notifies Revenue NSW).

Revenue NSW may cancel your WDO if:

  • False information is provided to Revenue NSW about the WDO. This may also result in fines debt that had been reduced under the WDO being reinstated
  • You are no longer eligible
  • The sponsor is unable to continue to supervise the WDO
  • You have failed without a good reason to do activities under the WDO. Revenue NSW can only do this after they have taken reasonable steps to consult with you and the sponsor.

Tip

While there is no penalty for not completing a WDO, enforcement action will commence for any outstanding balance unless you have made another payment arrangement with Revenue NSW.

If you disagree with any decision Revenue NSW makes about your WDO you can apply to the Hardship Review Board (HRB) for a review. The HRB can direct Revenue NSW to make, revoke or vary a WDO, or to write off all or part of an unpaid fine. [* see Part 5.8]

5.5 Applying for a stay of an enforcement order

A stay is a temporary order to stop Revenue NSW from continuing with its enforcement or collection procedures. You can ask for a stay when you are trying to get information and documents together for another payment option application (such as a payment plan application), or if you will soon have the money to pay the fine and the enforcement costs. You can also ask for a stay while you are organising a WDO.

You can apply for a stay either by phoning or writing to Revenue NSW. You will need to explain why you are applying for a stay and may have to provide supporting documents. An advocate can also apply for a stay on your behalf.
[* see Part 2.1]

Revenue NSW can stay an enforcement order for up to 12 months. A sample letter for a stay application is available in this publication. [* see Part 9]

5.5.1  Stay of enforcement for prisoners

When you go into custody Corrective Services NSW will let Revenue NSW know that you are in gaol and your estimated date of release.

If you don’t think this has happened you can fill out an Inmate Request for Information Form (IRI), or call Revenue NSW on 1300 554 450. Alternatively, Revenue NSW is also listed on the Common Auto Dial List (CADL).

When Revenue NSW know you are in gaol, you will have enforcement action stayed until three months after you are released.

You can get IRI forms from Corrective Services NSW staff. These staff will also be able to tell you if you are eligible to do a WDO while in gaol.

Tip

You can also apply to have your overdue fine referred to the court and heard by a magistrate if you have a good reason why you were unable to respond to a penalty notice earlier. You should contact Revenue NSW in the first instance with your supporting evidence. If this is unsuccessful, you may still be able to apply to have the matter dealt with by a court. Ignorance of the time limit would not be sufficient reason. [* see Part 2.9]

5.6 Applying to have a fine written off

Revenue NSW has the power to write off all or part of your unpaid fines in a few circumstances. Revenue NSW can decide by itself to write off all or part of an unpaid fine, or it can do it in response to an application from you, an advocate or a WDO sponsor on your behalf.

To have fines written off, you, or someone helping you, can apply in writing to the Director of Revenue NSW or use the online write off application portal on the Revenue NSW website.

Your application has to persuade Revenue NSW that because of serious financial, medical or personal circumstances, you:

  • Are unable to pay the fines now or in the future
  • Do not own any goods that can be seized
  • Do not have income that Revenue NSW can put a garnishee order on
  • Do not own any property Revenue NSW can impose a charge on, and
  • Are not able to do a WDO.

You will need to include supporting documents, such as medical reports, financial documents, letters from social workers or welfare agencies, copies of court orders, etc. [* see Part 9]

If your application is successful the fine enforcement orders will be written off, on the conditions that:

  • You do not have any further fines referred to the Revenue NSW for five (5) years, and
  • You advise Revenue NSW if your financial, medical or domestic circumstances change within five years.

If in that five years your circumstances improve or you receive a new fine enforcement order for a new fine, Revenue NSW can revoke the write off and start to take enforcement action on any unpaid fines. Any Revenue NSW decision about writing off a fine can be reviewed by the Hardship Review Board (HRB). The HRB can direct Revenue NSW to write off all or part of an unpaid fine. For more information on making an application to the HRB. [* see Part 5.7]

Note

If your fine is written off it means you don’t have to pay the fine but the record of the offence, and any demerit points you lost, do not change.

5.6.1 How to have a fine written off

Apply to Revenue NSW and supply your supporting evidence.

If your application is approved, the outstanding debt will be written off.

If your circumstances change or you receive a new enforcement order within five years, the write off may be revoked.

There are different ways that a write off can be revoked, a Legal Aid NSW lawyer will be able to help you with your situation. Call LawAccess NSW to be referred to the Legal Aid NSW WDO team.

5.7 Applying to the Hardship Review Board (HRB)

You, or someone acting for you, can apply to the HRB for a review of a Revenue NSW decision about:

  • A payment plan application
  • A WDO application or order
  • Writing off of all or part of an unpaid fine.

An application form and additional information is available on the HRB website.

John’s story

John’s mum worked at the local Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and had heard that Legal Aid NSW was running a “bring your fines day” at the local community hall. She told John that he should go and the lawyers could help him with his fines. John had $5,500 worth of unpaid fines and enforcement costs. He had also lost his driver licence because of the unpaid fines. John saw Sarah from Legal Aid NSW. He told her that he had been unwell for a long time, with a muscle wasting disease that would eventually mean he would be unable to walk. He could no longer work and received a disability support pension. John said it would be really helpful if he could get his licence back, while he was still able to drive, so he could get out a bit and go to medical appointments.

Sarah wrote to John’s doctor at the Aboriginal Medical Service and asked if she could provide a medical report with information about John’s illness. John’s doctor wrote back detailing John’s condition and confirmed it was degenerative, which would eventually mean John would be in a wheelchair. Sarah applied for a write off to Revenue NSW, based on John’s serious health problems. Revenue NSW wrote John’s fines off. It was clear that he had a serious medical condition and would not be able to pay his fines. When John’s fines were written off his licence restrictions were lifted.

Revenue NSW may suspend enforcement action while your application to the HRB is being dealt with, but they don’t have to unless they are directed to by the HRB. The HRB can do its review without you being there. It will look at your circumstances, including your ability to pay now and in the future, what civil enforcement action could be taken against you and your suitability for a WDO. The HRB can then direct Revenue NSW to:

  • Make, remove or change an order about a payment plan application
  • Make, remove or change an order about a WDO, or
  • Write off all or part of an unpaid fine.

Note

The HRB cannot direct Revenue NSW to lift Transport for NSW restrictions. For information about getting Transport for NSW restrictions lifted. [* see Part 5.10]

5.8 Remission of fines

The NSW Governor, on the recommendation of the Attorney General, can remit fines. This means that the fine is treated as if it has been paid. You might apply for remission if your application for write off has been rejected, or if the reason you are asking for remission is different from the reasons you use for a write off.

You must apply for remission in writing to the Community Relations Division, Department of Communities and Justice. You must also give details of why you are asking for it and provide supporting documents. Usually people ask for remission on compassionate grounds. Once your application is in, any enforcement action stops and any restrictions (such as Transport for NSW restrictions) are lifted until a decision is made. The process can take over two months.

Note

If your fine is remitted it means you don’t have to pay the fine but the record of the offence, and any demerit points you lost, do not change.

5.9 Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a big step, and it means serious restrictions on your life. These restrictions continue until you are “discharged” from bankruptcy, which usually happens automatically after three years. When a person is discharged from bankruptcy, they are released from most of their debts, but not all.

A “provable” debt is a debt which will be extinguished when the period of bankruptcy ends. A debt that is not “provable” will continue to be enforceable even after a person is “discharged” (released) from bankruptcy. Non provable debts are listed in Section 82 of the Bankruptcy Act and include penalties or fines imposed by a court.

Penalty notices are not specifically described as non-provable debts in Section 82 of the Bankruptcy Act. It is arguable that they are provable debts in bankruptcy and not enforceable once a person is discharged from bankruptcy. The Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) is the agency that administers and regulates Australia’s insolvency system. AFSA say that even if you go bankrupt, there are some situations where state government agencies may be able to continue with enforcement activity for unpaid penalty notices. Because of changes to the fines system, which take into consideration financial hardship, it is advisable to explore other options for addressing unpaid fines before considering bankruptcy. If you have other debts in addition to unpaid fines a financial counsellor can help to explore options for dealing with these. [* see Part 9]

5.10 Having transport for NSW restrictions removed (getting your licence back)

If you do not pay your fine, Revenue NSW can ask Transport for NSW to impose restrictions. The restrictions could be a driver licence suspension, vehicle registration cancellation and customer business restriction. They will also add their own enforcement costs on top of the Revenue NSW enforcement costs.

Note

Community workers, financial counsellors and lawyers can use a special hotline number to speak with Revenue NSW officers. This will often speed up the process of getting Transport for NSW restrictions lifted. To use the hotline, you must be a registered advocate. Most of the contacts listed in the back of this resource are for registered advocates. To become a registered advocate, you can contact Revenue NSW, or you can visit their website.

Revenue NSW can direct Transport for NSW to remove restrictions in the following circumstances:

  • You have paid your fines
  • You start a WDO
  • You set up a payment plan and
  • you have not previously defaulted on a payment plan, or
  • you pay money towards your fine immediately over the phone
  • There are compelling reasons to lift (or not impose) Transport for NSW restrictions such as:
  • you need your licence to be able to work
  • you have to drive someone who is ill to medical appointments
  • you are ill and need to drive yourself to medical appointments
  • you live in a remote location and have no access to public transport
  • you live in an Aboriginal community and have enrolled in a driver training program or school to obtain your licence.

Otherwise restrictions will only be lifted once you set up a payment plan. You may also be asked to make an upfront payment or a number of your part payments before restrictions will be lifted.

Don’t start driving again until you are sure the restrictions have been lifted – always check with Service NSW and Revenue NSW first. Your licence may have been suspended due to other traffic offences like demerit points and will stay in place even if your fines are paid in full or under management.