Have a heart: Ombudsman tells Council to ease up on treatment of vulnerable people over parking fines

Monday 30 April 2018
Maribyrnong City Council has treated disadvantaged people harshly by refusing to cancel parking fines in cases where exceptional circumstances justified cancellation, the Victorian Ombudsman has found. 
Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the council’s practices were lacking in fairness and discretion when compared with five other metropolitan councils.
“A little compassion is needed when you are dealing with an 80-year-old whose wife is dying of cancer or a pensioner whose husband has Parkinson’s disease,” Ms Glass said.
“Fair systems of public administration need thoughtful exercise of discretion, not blanket rules, rigidly applied.”
Her Investigation into Maribyrnong City Council’s internal review practices for disability parking infringements was tabled in the Victorian Parliament today.
The investigation examined: the council’s guidelines for internal review of infringements; how council staff apply these guidelines; and five case studies of people fined about $150 for failing to properly display a valid disability parking permit when parked in a disability car park. In each case, the driver or passenger held a valid disability parking permit, yet Maribyrnong Council refused to withdraw their infringements.
“As we found out during our investigation, comparable councils would most likely have cancelled the infringements once they saw the valid permits, particularly when it was a first offence,” Ms Glass said.
 “Although the council told us they take this strict approach because permits may be misused, there is no evidence that any of these cases is dodgy,” she said.
“In their zeal, the council seems to have forgotten they are harming the very people they claim to protect.”
The council has accepted two of Ms Glass’s three recommendations: that it update its guidelines and provide training to staff involved in internal reviews.
“While I am pleased the council has now reimbursed one individual (from the case studies), it is disappointing that it has, so far, refused to make modest ex gratia payments to the other four,” she said.
She thanked WEstjustice – the Western Community Legal Centre - for sparking the investigation by making a complaint about the council’s practices to her office. Their complaint was co-signed by Moonee Valley Legal Service, Victoria Legal Aid, Inner Melbourne Community Legal and Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre (commUnity).
Media contact: Ainslie Gowan | Tel 03 9613 6235 | Mob 0409 936 235 |  ainslie.gowan@ombudsman.vic.gov.au
Further information: Tel 03 9613 6222 | Regional 1800 806 314 | www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au | Follow @VicOmbudsman
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