Fines Victoria complaintsDate posted:
Letter to the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly
The Honourable the President of the Legislative Council
The Honourable the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
Pursuant to sections 25 and 25AA of the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic), I present to Parliament my report on Fines Victoria complaints.
Deborah Glass OBE
17 April 2019
"When we make a mistake, we pay. When they make a mistake, we pay. That is not fair … I’m very lucky that I’m only supporting myself but can you imagine someone who has four or five kids and the family relies on his ability to earn an income?"
"I’m at my wit’s end, I don’t know what to do, that’s why I’m calling you ... I don’t know what to do about [my son’s] fines. And I just can’t get them to answer. No one answers my letters or my emails. What do I do?"
"I am getting really frustrated and sick of having to cop the punishment for something that I did not do. I need my licence and my kids depend on me to get them around."Complaints to the Ombudsman
Like death and taxes, fines are a fact of life. Few people in Victoria would not have dealt with a fine or infringement at some point, whether from a traffic camera, parking offence or any one of numerous other matters, including someone else driving their car too fast.
Fines Victoria came into existence on 31 December 2017 to administer all fines in the State, replacing Civic Compliance Victoria. Its gestation was part of major fines reform which enjoyed strong bipartisan support; in the words of the then Attorney-General: “designed to make Victoria’s fines system fairer and more equitable for vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the community.” Its intent was laudable; not only to be a “single, central and accessible point of contact” for people with fines, but to introduce a range of social justice initiatives, including addressing recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
In the year following this worthy initiative, however, complaints to my office began to soar, in some months more than double that of its predecessor. Indeed it was the third most complained about agency in Victoria in 2018, no mean feat considering over a thousand public bodies are within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
We had meetings with Fines Victoria throughout 2018, to alert them to the patterns of complaints and understand what they were doing about them. This report sets out those themes and the agency’s response. It was quickly clear that the cause of many of the complaints was the new IT system, which has still not been fully rectified.
Many complaints were about delay; in the processing of nominations, completing reviews and implementing payment plans. Others were about call wait times and difficulties making contact, many by people deeply anxious about the impact of the delays. Other complaints raised issues with the way Fines Victoria shares information with VicRoads, including the frustration people felt being referred between agencies.
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 anxious elderly parents, frustration, anxiety and sometimes, trauma.
In the vast majority of these cases, it should not have taken the intervention of the Ombudsman for Fines Victoria to have simply done the right thing.
Fines Victoria has been candid about its failings and was quick to recognise its performance was less than satisfactory. They advised us of significant resources put into eliminating backlogs and addressing the IT challenges that had contributed to them. This report does not seek to investigate the IT delays, although I note the lengthy history of IT failures in the management of infringements in Victoria. I also note that the agency was launched before the IT system was fully functional, and that the deadline for full functionality continues to be set back.
However, 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. 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.
We continue to receive complaints about Fines Victoria, and it is too early to tell whether any improvements have had an effect. I am tabling this report to draw attention both to the problems identified by the complaints and the solutions put forward by Fines Victoria, and to make clear I am keeping the agency under review to see whether further investigation is warranted. There has been significant public investment in this area; agencies and the public have a common interest in it working as well as the speeches in Parliament intended.
About this report
In 2018, the Ombudsman received 605 complaints about Fines Victoria. This report looks at the emerging themes from these complaints and the efforts of Fines Victoria to address them. It includes a number of complaint case summaries. The names of all complainants, related parties and other identifying information have been changed to ensure anonymity.
The Ombudsman’s purpose is to ensure fairness for Victorians in their dealings with the public sector, and to improve public administration. The Ombudsman has a number of functions; resolving complaints and investigating matters received from the public is a central function.
In a majority of cases, complaints can be resolved by Ombudsman staff informally without the need for a formal investigation. An informal resolution may involve:
- referring a complainant back to the authority to seek to have their complaint dealt with internally
- making enquiries with an authority and relaying the response to the complainant
- facilitating an appropriate solution which is accepted by a complainant and the authority.
Ombudsman complaints tell a story about the public’s interaction with government. They assist in identifying whether there may be a problem with how a government authority is operating. Analysing a body of complaints can help identify systemic issues in the operation of the agency or government authority.
Fines Victoria had a challenging year in 2018. Those challenges are detailed in this report. This report aims to share the experiences of Victorians affected by these challenges, along with providing commentary on themes arising from the complaints.
Interaction with Fines Victoria in 2018
Fines Victoria commenced operation on 31 December 2017. From early in 2018, Ombudsman staff observed a significant increase in the number of complaints received about Fines Victoria in comparison to those received under its predecessor agency: Civic Compliance Victoria.
Complaints received about Fines Victoria in 2018 represented a 74 per cent increase from the number of complaints received the previous year about Civic Compliance Victoria. Fines Victoria was the third most complained-about agency of all the agencies within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in 2018. By comparison, complaints about Civic Compliance Victoria ranked seventh in 2017.
In addition to the rise in the number of complaints, Ombudsman staff observed a change in the nature of the complaints. People were expressing frustration about delays and being unable to make contact with Fines Victoria much more frequently than with the predecessor agency. There was also an increase in complexity about the administration of infringements which meant many complaints could not be resolved through a quick series of enquiries.
Dan’s story illustrates the types of complex complaints the Ombudsman received in 2018.
The number and complexity of the complaints received and delayed responses from Fines Victoria meant what might have been simple matters could not be resolved quickly.
In May 2018, and again in October 2018, we met with Fines Victoria staff to discuss administrative issues affecting the efficient resolution of our enquiries and the processes for resolving complaints. Ombudsman staff were regularly in contact with officers at Infringement Management Enforcement Services (IMES) within the Department of Justice and Community Safety to resolve individual complaints. IMES manages the operation of Fines Victoria as well as several functions related to the infringements system, such as enforcement of warrants by the Sheriff’s office.
At the end of 2018, we analysed six months of complaint data and wrote to Fines Victoria outlining the emerging themes. We included 14 case summaries, some of which had been satisfactorily resolved and some that were still to be dealt with conclusively. Fines Victoria provided responses on both the individual cases and broader issues. But as we continue to receive complaints this has been a protracted and ongoing process.
Table 1: Number of complaints made to the Ombudsman about Fines Victoria, compared with complaints made about its predecessor
Source: Victorian Ombudsman
About Fines Victoria
Fines Victoria was established by the Fines Reform Act 2014 (Vic) as part of a series of reforms aimed at improving the collection and enforcement of legal debt in Victoria. In the Second Reading Speech for the Fines Reform Act, Fines Victoria was described as follows:
"Fines Victoria will be a central, accessible body for the public to deal with in relation to fines, providing a single point of entry to deal with legal debts. This will make it easier for individuals to access the system and understand their total liability and will make payment arrangements easier to access by providing consistent payment options and payment methods."1
A key feature of the reforms was to enable the recovery of both infringement and court fines within a single agency. People with infringements originating from multiple enforcement agencies, registered court fines and fines at various enforcement stages would be able to apply to the Director, Fines Victoria for the administration of their fines. The reforms would enable the consolidation of all infringements issued to an individual into a single account and make significant improvements to the process for making payments and otherwise having fines dealt with.
The Fines Reform Act confers a number of information gathering and decision making powers on the Director, Fines Victoria. That role is occupied by the Executive Director, IMES in the Department of Justice and Community Safety. Central amongst these decision making powers is the power to administer the enforcement review scheme.
Several additional processes were introduced in the Fines Reform Act which had the effect of increasing the options for individuals in situations of vulnerability, or who were in financial hardship, to deal with their infringements. These included:
- the introduction of the Work and Development Permit scheme which allows people experiencing disadvantage with non-financial options to expiate their infringement fine debts and address the causes of their offending through approved activities and treatments
- a separate regulatory scheme for children and young people who are in default.
Delayed stages of commencement for Fines Victoria
The commencement date for Fines Victoria under the Fines Reform Act was to be 30 June 2016. However, on 9 March 2016, the Victorian Parliament passed the Fines Reform and Infringements Acts Amendment Act 2016 (Vic) which extended the commencement date for Fines Victoria to 31 December 2017. The extended commencement date was ‘to allow sufficient time for the government and enforcement agencies to implement a raft of regulatory, operational and organisational changes’.2 A major aspect of these changes related to the procurement of a new information technology system that, at the time the Amendment Act was introduced to the Parliament, had not been procured.
The Amendment Act also established the following:
- The Work and Development Permit scheme was expanded to include infringements that are registered for enforcement.
- The ‘time served’ scheme for prisoners was reinstated, allowing the Sheriff to apply on behalf of a prisoner for an order to convert outstanding infringement warrants to prison time.
- Internal review processes were changed, including the introduction of a new ground for internal review where a person is unaware of the infringement notice having been served and an internal review oversight function for the Director, Fines Victoria.3
On 12 December 2017, the Victorian Government passed the Fines Reform Amendment Act 2017 (Vic). This Act again extended the default commencement date of the Fines Reform Act, this time to 31 May 2018. In the second reading speech the then Attorney-General, the Hon Martin Pakula MP, explained the extension to the default commencement date:
"While it is intended that the Fines Reform Act commence on 31 December 2017 as currently planned, the bill will extend the default commencement date of the act to 31 May 2018 to allow sufficient time to consider the changes to the VIEW [IT] system necessary to support these reforms and to maintain the integrity of Victoria’s infringements system. The extended default commencement date will provide the flexibility necessary to ensure that the commencement of the Fines Reform Act aligns with the commencement of the VIEW system."4
This 2017 reform also introduced the Family Violence Scheme, which allows for infringements to be withdrawn if a person is a victim of family violence and the family violence substantially contributed to their inability to control the offending behaviour.
On 31 December 2017, Fines Victoria began operation with only partial IT functionality. Problems with IT functionality, and related procedural and processing issues, have been apparent since the inception of the agency and have created significant challenges, some of which are outlined in detail throughout this report. Fines Victoria did not commence issuing Notices of Final Demand, for example, until April 2018, which led to a significant rise in activity and resulting processing backlogs.
It was not clear why, with a default commencement date of 31 May 2018, the decision was taken to commence earlier than this on 31 December 2017. This decision was perplexing considering Fines Victoria was reporting that significant IT challenges were affecting its operation from the time it commenced. In response to our draft report, Fines Victoria said this decision was taken by the Government, rather than the then Department of Justice and Regulation (DJR) or by Fines Victoria.
In response to our draft report, the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety responded on behalf of the former Attorney-General.
In short, the Secretary advised that the department had received specialist technical advice that:
"[T]he new system would be functional at go-live with outstanding issues expected to be resolved within a short timeframe of this date.
"This view was supported by various checkpoint processes that confirmed the system could be deployed by this deadline with risks able to be effectively managed. It was also supported by the fact that it was becoming increasingly unsustainable to continue to use the legacy IT system, including the financial exposure for the state in continuing with the existing provider."
The Secretary’s letter is provided as Appendix 1.
Fines Victoria exercises a range of functions and powers relating to the processing, collection and enforcement of fines. This includes collecting payments, establishing payment arrangements and issuing Notices of Final Demand.
The Director, Fines Victoria has a number of decision making powers including the power to receive and determine applications for enforcement review.5
Fines Victoria works with 130 different enforcement agencies and the courts. However, it has significant interactions with two key statutory agencies, each with distinct functions:
- Victoria Police issues notices relating to road safety offences.
- VicRoads manages demerit point and licence consequences.
Fines Victoria outsources certain key functions such as the Fines Victoria call centre and the processing of incoming and outgoing correspondence. The current contractor for these services is Civica Business Process Outsourcing Pty Ltd (Civica BPO). Civica BPO is also engaged by the Traffic Camera Office (the TCO) of the Victoria Police to fulfil a number of functions.
The IMES Business Services Agreement (the Business Services Agreement) was entered into by the Attorney-General and Minister for Police with Civica BPO in August 2017. The objectives of the Business Services Agreement include to ‘meet the needs of Government, Police, the Director, Fines Victoria, the Sheriff, the IMES Unit and other enforcement agencies’ and to ‘provide efficient, effective and reliable assistance for the prosecution, enforcement and collection of Fines and Infringement Penalties’.6
The TCO is responsible for a number of functions relating to Victoria Police operated traffic cameras in Victoria. Of importance for this report is that the TCO makes decisions on driver nomination statements and conducts internal reviews of traffic infringements.
In response to our draft report, the TCO said:
"Part of [Civica BPO’s] role is to perform administrative functions, under contract to support the TCO. One of those functions is the processing of nomination statements received in respect to infringement notices issued by the TCO."
Fines Victoria is supported by an IT system, the Victorian Infringements Enforcement Warrant (VIEW) system. The former Department of Justice and Regulation engaged Civica Pty Ltd (a separate but related company to Civica BPO) to deliver VIEW in September 2016.
The VIEW system is an essential element of the fines management model introduced through the Fines Reform Act. VIEW was introduced to pull together data from multiple agencies and allow Fines Victoria to fulfil its role as the centralised portal where Victorians could review and pay their fines.
On the VIEW system, Fines Victoria told the Ombudsman:
"The VIEW system was scheduled to go ‘live’ in full on 31 December 2017, to coincide with the commencement of the Fines Reform Act. Shortly before this time, it became clear that this would not be possible, and so a decision was made to launch VIEW on this date with core functionality only and for additional functionality to be implemented progressively throughout the course of 2018. The progressive implementation has been slower than first anticipated and is regrettably still not complete. This lack of functionality has led to significant impacts on customers.
"A lack of functionality has meant that many of the procedural steps in the fines lifecycle were not supported by VIEW, or could only be undertaken with resource intensive manual workarounds. To address these gaps a ‘front to end’ approach was taken, meaning effort was concentrated on deploying functionality and implementing workarounds to matters at the start of the fines lifecycle, as these are the steps that affect the largest proportion of customers."
In a media interview in July 2018, the Director, Fines Victoria said all IT functionality would be fully operational by February 2019.7 At a meeting between Ombudsman staff and IMES in January 2019, Fines Victoria reported that full IT functionality would not be achieved before the end of June 2019.
History of infringement management IT in Victoria
VIEW replaced the Victorian Infringement Management System (VIMS), which was over 20 years old and not equipped to provide the functions required by the Fines Reform Act.
VIMS was found to have had ‘a number of inadequacies’ in a 2013 Ombudsman investigation into unenforced warrants and factors affecting the enforcing of warrants.8 In that report, IMES acknowledged 'VIMS is inadequate, and no longer supports best practice enforcement of outstanding infringements’.9
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.
A 2016 Auditor-General’s report into this IT project found:
"Following significant project delays and ongoing performance issues with the contractor, the government terminated the project in March 2015. The $59.9 million actual project cost at termination was over twice the planned cost. The delays and ultimate cancellation of the project mean that DJR has no choice but to use a dated legacy system. Moreover, proposed legislative reforms that are dependent on DJR’s delivery and deployment of the new system have been postponed."10
The infringement lifecycle
The process of an infringement under the Fines Reform Act regime, from the time it is issued to the stage where a warrant is enforced by the Sheriff, is complex. For the purpose of this report, the following is a summary of the stages in the fines lifecycle.
Over 130 agencies in Victoria issue infringements for a range of offences. When an individual or business receives an infringement notice, they have 21 days to deal with it by either paying, nominating another driver, or requesting a review.
After 21 days, if no action has been taken, the individual or business will be issued with a Penalty Reminder Notice. A fee may also be added to the infringement. The reminder will give the individual an additional 14 days to pay or otherwise deal with an infringement.
During the infringement stage, a party can elect to have a matter heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
If a party fails to deal with an infringement during the initial stage, it can be registered with Fines Victoria. The Director, Fines Victoria will issue a Notice of Final Demand and a fee may be added to the infringement.
At this stage, the option of seeking an internal review by the issuing agency is no longer available. However, a party can seek an enforcement review from the Director.
The Magistrates’ Court may issue an enforcement warrant if an infringement has not been paid or otherwise dealt with within 28 days after a Notice of Final Demand is issued. If an enforcement warrant is issued, a Sheriff’s Officer can take certain action including wheel clamping or seizing property, depending on the circumstances and nature of the infringement.
A ‘7-day Notice’ can be issued as a final warning to deal with an infringement. At the expiry of the ‘7-day Notice’, a person may be arrested. At this stage their only option is to pay the fine, along with the relevant enforcement and other costs that have been added.
Importantly, a payment plan can be entered into at any time before the expiry of a 7-day Notice. An eligible party can also apply for a Work and Development Permit or for an infringement to be withdrawn under the Family Violence Scheme.
Processing delays and system errors
The Ombudsman analysed approaches from the public received over a six month period, from 1 July to 31 December 2018. This helped form an understanding of the major themes of Fines Victoria complaints. An explanation of the themes, along with case summaries, was put to Fines Victoria in January 2019.
Complaints involving delays by Fines Victoria to respond to requests and to applications, or to process documents, were a feature of the approaches made to the Ombudsman in 2018. Between 1 July and 31 December 2018, 133 members of the public approached the Ombudsman with complaints about Fines Victoria delays. This represents 34.5 per cent of approaches about Fines Victoria.
The three most significant areas where delay was reported were in the processing of nominations (26 per cent), completing reviews (43 per cent) and implementing payment plans (19 per cent).
Fines Victoria reported they were not surprised that delays were a major area of concern. It advised that issues with VIEW lead to significant processing backlogs from early in 2018. VIEW functionality issues severely impacted Fines Victoria’s ability to process applications and requests in two ways:
- VIEW did not support some processes required by Fines Victoria, meaning that fines were placed ‘on hold’ until there was sufficient functionality.
- Functionality issues were addressed with manual workarounds that took staff significantly more time than similar processes under the previous VIMS system.
Data provided by Fines Victoria shows the backlogs were particularly acute regarding the processing of ‘nomination’ requests and requests for payment arrangements. Figure 1 below illustrates the accumulation of matters that created backlogs. It also shows when Fines Victoria say that backlogs on some matters returned to ‘business as usual’ levels.
In response to our draft report, the Traffic Camera Office said;
"It is acknowledged upon the implementation of ‘VIEW’ there were some system and functionality limitation issues. This resulted in significant backlogs across all TCO administrative workflows, including the processing of nomination statements. In June 2018, there was a backlog of approximately 200,000 nominations which lead to the requirement to employ additional contract staff to support the functioning of both Civica and the TCO.
"It is further acknowledged that due to the extensive backlog in the early stages some of Fines Victoria’s customers would have experienced longer than usual delays in having their enquiries being answered by Civica."
Fines Victoria said it engaged additional staff to process correspondence throughout 2018. It also took the following specific action during the period of significant backlogs:
"The priority of Fines Victoria during this time was to ensure customers were not materially disadvantaged by delays. Fines were placed … ‘on hold’ until such time that the matters could be dealt with, meaning no additional fees were added. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that these delays were a significant source of frustration for customers."
Figure 1: Correspondence on hand
Source: Fines Victoria
Processing delays caused confusion and misinformation in some cases, and led to collateral issues and errors in others, as demonstrated in Yolanda’s story.
I said “this is harassment, you are harassing me.” Because I paid and what happened with my payment I have no idea and I have no control over that.
Yolanda’s story demonstrates the problems that arise when delays are compounded by processing errors. An analysis of Fines Victoria processing errors is set out later in this report.
Fines Victoria’s processing delays in 2018 created uncertainty for Victorians trying to have their infringements fairly dealt with.
Generally, people with complaints involving delays understood there were deadlines for dealing with infringements and additional penalties could be applied if those deadlines were exceeded. Some people spoke of the anxiety they felt each time they were informed by Fines Victoria that their matter was still being processed. Kaye’s story (next) and Adam's story (below) illustrate the uncertainty and frustration that can arise because of processing delays.
Kaye’s story shows the human cost of delays and the challenges with making contact with Fines Victoria. Also, a frequent line of complaint by customers experiencing delays was that they were unable to get clear information from Fines Victoria about their case. These are discussed in more detail later in this report.
Fines Victoria said it has put significant resources into eliminating backlogs. In October 2018, the Executive Director of IMES reported $16 million in additional funds had been allocated to Fines Victoria and ‘[q]uite a lot of that has been spent on addressing the backlog’. 11
Delays and other issues regarding enforcement reviews
Regarding enforcement reviews, Fines Victoria acknowledged that delays in 2018 were significant:
"The Fines Reform Act introduced a new process for enforcement reviews. It is much more resource intensive than the process it replaced, more than had been anticipated. Further delays in the implementation of the VIEW system have also resulted in enforcement reviews taking longer to process."
We note that enforcement review decisions were the only item in the Correspondence on Hand table (below) where the backlog had not decreased.
Fines Victoria explained this was because it adopted a ‘front to end’ approach to resolving issues with VIEW. This approach concentrated on deploying functionality to resolve issues which arose at the start of the infringement lifecycle. Lower priority was given to resolving issues at the enforcement stage.
Fines Victoria’s reason for adopting this approach was ‘the majority of customers interact with the initial stages of the fines lifecycle, and as such this approach would make the most significant improvements to the largest proportion of customers.’
Kaye’s story also demonstrates another issue with the reforms introduced under the Fines Reform Act regarding the power of the Director, Fines Victoria to determine enforcement reviews.
The enforcement review process is part of the reforms that came into operation under the Fines Reform Act in January 2018. Under the former system, a party could apply to the Infringement Court for a revocation of an infringement. This is what Kaye did. The revocation process was replaced with the enforcement review process under the Fines Reform Act.
Transitional provisions supporting the commencement of the Fines Reform Act provide, generally, that notices issued prior to commencement (before 31 December 2017) be dealt with under the (new) provisions of the Fines Reform Act. Effectively, ‘old’ infringements, being those issued prior to 31 December 2017, are dealt with under the (new) legislation.
Under the previous regime, Kaye could have applied for a revocation on grounds including that another person was the driver and there were circumstances that had prevented a more timely nomination.
There are no comparative grounds on which an enforcement review can be determined in the Fines Reform Act. An enforcement review can only be determined on the following grounds:
- there was a mistake of law
- there was a mistake of identity (for example, because the person in question did not commit the offence)
- the applicant has special circumstances
- the conduct of the applicant should be excused having regard to any exceptional circumstances
- the person was unaware of the notice having been served and service of the infringement notice was not executed by personal service.12
Nominating another party outside of the statutory deadline in which a ‘nomination’ can be accepted is not a ground upon which an enforcement review can be determined. In Kaye’s case this means while she could have had the infringements revoked in December 2017, once the new regime came into operation in 2018, her ability to deal with the infringements by nominating her son outside of the nomination period was extinguished. This is despite the fact that Kaye had a valid reason for why she did not nominate within the prescribed period.
It is not clear how many cases have arisen like Kaye’s story (above) involving a revocation request that was converted into an enforcement review, with the effect of extinguishing the central grounds for having the relevant infringement reconsidered.
Enforcement reviews are the last area still experiencing a backlog due to the ‘front to end’ approach taken to address all backlogs. Considering Kaye’s case was only resolved satisfactorily after the Ombudsman became involved, and only concluded in January 2019, it is likely there are more individuals with enforcement review matters from early in 2018 (or before) which remain unresolved.
Fines Victoria acknowledge that enforcement reviews were not prioritised as a result of its ‘front to end’ approach. It outlined plans to address the enforcement review backlog through the engagement of a ‘surge team’ of staff to complete reviews, and expects enforcement review activity will return to ‘business as usual’ in 2019.
Adam’s story is another example of issues arising from delays and enforcement reviews that took a long time to resolve.
Call wait times and difficulties making contact with Fines Victoria
Between 1 July and 31 December 2018, we received 55 approaches from members of the public who could not get through to Fines Victoria by phone. Approaches of this type spiked in July 2018 but continued throughout the second half of 2018. Through July, complaints that individuals could not make contact with Fines Victoria were an issue in 34 per cent of approaches to the Ombudsman. Individuals complained of long wait times or of being cut off while being in a phone queue. By November and December 2018, this problem had diminished, amounting to under 11 per cent of complaints regarding Fines Victoria.
Fines Victoria said that, due to the lack of functionality in VIEW, call centre staff needed to spend more time on the phone to customers while accessing information in the system:
"Excessive call wait times alone caused enormous frustration to customers, but this frustration was compounded where a customer sought to resolve other issues caused by Fines Victoria. Unfortunately, the call wait times significantly increased the level of frustration experienced by customers caused by the underlying issue."
Fines Victoria provided detailed data of the call wait times which is set out in Figure 2 below. It shows the increase in call volumes when Notices of Final Demand began being issued in April 2018, and when additional staff were engaged to deal with processing delays in May 2018. Fines Victoria acknowledged that call wait times were ‘unacceptably high’ in mid-2018.
The issues created by the processing delays, set out earlier in this report, were compounded when members of the public could not speak directly with an officer at Fines Victoria. Sarah and Paul’s story below is an example of an issue which should have been resolved simply but for their inability to speak to someone at Fines Victoria.
Issues relating to communication with Fines Victoria had a knock on effect on the Ombudsman, as well as a number of community services who assist people interacting with the infringements system. Additional time and resources were expended making contact with Fines Victoria.
Figure 2: Fines Victoria Call Centre - Weekly Volumes
Source: Fines Victoria
Sarah’s and Paul’s circumstances are common in that they involve a party paying an infringement and then nominating another party (generally their spouse or family member) for the demerit points.
Fines Victoria report that in such circumstances, the only process available is to refund the individual who paid the infringement and re-issue an infringement to the nominated party. It is not possible to transfer the payment by the nominating party across to the nominee.
We understand the frustration of people in this situation. When they have nominated another party, and their refund is delayed, they can feel as if they are being pursued for payment of an infringement which they have already paid.
Complaints involving apparent processing errors by Fines Victoria were frequent in 2018. Often the Ombudsman will make enquiries with Fines Victoria to determine if an error has occurred. Where there has been significant delay or other complicating factors relating to an infringement or series of infringements, it can be difficult to determine where an error has occurred. For this reason, it is not possible to accurately report statistics on processing errors.
Fines Victoria advised of a series of errors arising from issues with VIEW
"Fines Victoria placed ‘holds’ on matters to ensure customers were not materially disadvantaged by the delays and backlogs. The holds would prevent the issuing of Penalty Reminder Notices and Notices of Final Demand while customers awaited responses to nominations and other correspondence. This measure was put in place to ensure that demerit points were not issued before they ought to have been.
"In July 2018, the department became aware that in a small proportion of these cases, these steps failed, and further notices were issued for fines that ought to have been on hold. There has been no one cause of these failures, but a combination of system and human errors."
As a result of these ‘holding errors’, we understand 397 people had their licences wrongly suspended in 2018. There were many other adverse consequences flowing from these holding errors, some of which are detailed in the following case summaries. The stories of Isabella, Yasmine and Leanne (all below) detail the experiences of people whose matters were incorrectly progressed because of IT failures. Each were affected differently and required intervention from the Ombudsman.
Fines Victoria said:
"These failures have been a significant source of inconvenience for customers, particularly when they occurred in circumstances where customers were unable to conveniently contact Fines Victoria by telephone to discuss their situation."
Fines Victoria also acknowledged while it ‘has made efforts to detect and identify affected customers before errors progress to tangible impacts upon customers’, it is often reliant on people who have suffered adverse effects from holding errors to bring them to Fines Victoria’s attention. It expects to continue receiving complaints about holding errors into 2019:
"[T]he impact of a holding error is often not apparent until some months after the error has occurred. No adverse impact accrues to the customer the moment their fine goes ‘off hold’. Rather, it is when a fine progresses, which may be months later, that fees are added, and it can be many months until demerit points are applied. It is at this point that, if the error has not already been detected by Fines Victoria, it will be identified by the customer."
Fines Victoria states it has taken steps to deal with the adverse circumstances arising from the holding errors. It says it has put significant resources into analysing and proactively identifying affected customers. Its efforts to eradicate the processing backlogs that were experienced in 2018 should also ensure that similar holds to those placed on infringements in 2018, which led to the errors, will not be needed in the future.
It is concerning that Fines Victoria cannot identify the breadth of issues arising from holding errors, errors which it created. Similarly, it is concerning that no time limit can be put on when complaints arising from holding errors will stop. Fines Victoria acknowledges that the legacy of customers affected by holding errors has not been comprehensively addressed.
They told me “yes, you can have the extension.” The [phone] recording says they said “yes” … They did agree that they did say that on the tape, but then it was like “too bad”.
Payment plan processing error
Issues with payment plans formed a portion of complaints to the Ombudsman between 1 July and 31 December 2018. Forty nine complaints were made, with Fines Victoria confirming it made errors in at least 18 per cent of these. The other major area of complaint regarding payment plans was delay.
A payment plan must be offered to any natural person who meets the eligibility criteria set out in the Attorney-General’s Guidelines to the Infringements Act 2006 (the Guidelines). There is a discretion to offer a payment plan to people (or corporations) who do not meet the Guidelines. The Fines Reform Act and the Guidelines do not set a time limit for when a payment plan can be entered into; but difficulties in applying a payment plan, including the accrual of extra costs, can arise if a matter has proceeded to enforcement stage or beyond.
We understand that some errors associated with payment plans arose because of an issue with multiple debtor IDs being assigned to individuals. A debtor ID is a number attributed to an individual making payments towards an infringement. Issues arose where individuals who had multiple infringements were assigned multiple debtor IDs. This resulted in payments made under a payment plan not being effectively applied to all infringements issued to an individual.
From the complaints we received about processing errors relating to payment plans, two themes emerged:
- issues where payments were made by Centrepay
- issues where payment plans were in place prior to 31 December 2017
Regarding the broad issues relating to payment plans, Fines Victoria said:
"[The] backlog in payment arrangements took longer than other backlogs to be reduced.
"These functionality issues led to a particular delay to payment applications where the customer sought to make payments by Centrepay, meaning these applications took even longer to be resolved.
"Functionality issues with payment arrangements have now been resolved, and the backlog of applications has been addressed."
Members of the public contacting the Ombudsman about processing errors (or significant delays) relating to payment plans were often frustrated. Understandably, people seeking to deal with fines through a payment plan can feel they are doing their best to address their infringements responsibly, in circumstances where the very system which has brought the infringement upon them cannot adequately respond.
Payment plan issues where individuals made payments through Centrepay
Centrepay is a system where people can have payments for certain specified expenses paid directly out of the income support payments they receive through Centrelink. This process is different from a direct debit arrangement, which takes funds out of an individual’s bank account. With payments made through Centrepay, the money is deducted from an individual’s Centrelink payments before the money is paid to them.
Payment plan arrangements are generally utilised by people with low incomes or high living costs, where paying an infringement in full is not an option. This is particularly the case for those making payment plans through Centrepay as they are on sufficiently low incomes to qualify for social security payments through Centrelink. Errors relating to payment plans, therefore, impact some of the most disadvantaged people in the community.
I am now at a loss as what to do next as I can’t afford any legal action as I am a 77 year old pensioner and in this ridiculous situation I am now left spending 65 cents on this letter for a $1 fine.
Ron’s story highlights Fines Victoria’s problems in establishing payment arrangements using Centrepay. Fines Victoria said:
"In early 2018 a lack of functionality in the VIEW system prevented the establishment of payment arrangements such as [Ron’s].
"This functionality was deployed progressively during the year; further, the ability to establish payment arrangements using Centrepay arrived later than other payment arrangement functionality. These issues have now been resolved."
Payment Plan issues arising prior to 1 January 2018
A number of processes operating prior to 1 January 2018 were disrupted with the commencement of Fines Victoria in unforeseen ways.
Yasmine’s story illustrates some issues experienced by individuals in regard to payment plans. Kaye’s story (above) highlights issues with enforcement reviews requested prior to the change over.
I know I sound like I’m whingeing but why do they need me to go as far as the Ombudsman to get them to hurry up when they told me six months ago they are going to fix it all.
Issues relating to the ‘nomination’ of infringements were the most common area of complaint raised by members of the community with the Ombudsman. Complaints regarding the nomination process largely involved delay and processing errors.
Between July and December 2018, members of the public made 115 complaints where nomination of infringements was an issue. This comprised almost 30 per cent of all approaches about Fines Victoria at the time.
As set out in Figure 1 above, the backlog of nomination requests was around 190,000 in May/June 2018. Complainants often said they were frustrated with delays in the nomination process, where they were aware their infringement was approaching the deadline for nominating another driver, but they had not had confirmation that their nomination statement had been accepted.
Errors processing nominations were a source of particular frustration as the nominating parties believed they had done everything required to adequately deal with their infringement. Processing errors around nominations create a particularly stark feeling of unfair treatment as a nominating party feels they have been made liable for a fine when they were not the party who offended.
A number of complexities arising from approaches to the Ombudsman about nominations added to the difficulties in obtaining quick and satisfactory resolutions. Fines Victoria’s reported IT failures also led to ‘holding’ failures and some infringements matters progressing incorrectly, as discussed earlier. The holding failures affected a number of nomination statements.
Complexity around the law
Provisions in the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) and the Infringements Act 2006 (Vic) allow a person issued with an infringement to nominate another person, the person responsible for committing the offence. Fines Victoria processes allow for nominations to be made online or by submitting an approved hard copy form.
Many offences in the Road Safety Act are ‘operator-onus’ offences pursuant to Part 6AA of the Road Safety Act. This means the driver of the vehicle and the registered owner are liable for an offence, and the only defence available to the registered owner is to submit a nomination statement identifying the driver in accordance with the requirements of the Road Safety Act.
There are time limits for submitting nomination statements.13 Strict deadlines apply in the Road Safety Act to the category of offences known as ‘Excessive Speed Infringements’ (ESI). An ESI offence is one of a number of offences which involve exceeding the speed limit by 25 kilometres per hour or more, or by driving at a speed of 130 kilometres per hour or more (regardless of the speed limit). The Road Safety Act provides that an infringement notice issued for an ESI offence takes effect as a conviction for the offence 28 days after issue, unless the recipient of the notice elects to have the matter determined by a court or makes a valid nomination statement.14
In the case of other operator-onus offences, a nomination statement can be submitted any time before the fine is registered for enforcement with the Director, Fines Victoria under Part 3 of the Fines Reform Act.
Fines Victoria advised that ‘[o]nce the deadline for nomination has passed, the only review mechanism available is an enforcement review’. However, as noted above, an enforcement review can only be determined on specific grounds set out in the Fines Reform Act. The fact that a recipient of an infringement was not the driver of the vehicle in question and wishes to nominate another driver is not itself a valid ground for an enforcement review.
Complexity around the decision making process
Nomination statements are decided upon by the TCO of Victoria Police. Fines Victoria reported that its role is limited to collecting nomination statements on behalf of Victoria Police and acting on the outcomes of Victoria Police decisions.
Fines Victoria also reported that many of its transactional functions are outsourced to Civica BPO. This includes administrative functions related to the processing of nomination statements.
As noted previously, Victoria Police has also engaged Civica BPO to perform certain administrative functions. In response to our enquiries regarding a complaint not directly referenced in this report, the Department of Justice and Community Safety advised some functions are provided by Civica BPO, including processing nominations, but:
" ... TCO has provided Civica BPO with clear guidelines that specify how Civica BPO must carry out this role, including when a nomination statement should be accepted or rejected. If a matter falls outside of these guidelines, Civica BPO is required to refer that matter to TCO. Civica BPO is not exercising discretion in these matters, but rather, it is carrying out administrative functions as instructed, and in the name of TCO. This arrangement is consistent the requirements of the [Road Safety Act]."
The Nominations Business Rules, which are the guidelines referred to by the Department of Justice and Community Safety, set out the procedure for Civica BPO officers when handling nomination requests. Under these rules, an officer of Civica BPO receives nomination statements, either in hard copy or electronic form, and makes an assessment. Broadly, where the officer assesses there is an irregular feature in a nomination statement, the rules require the officer to ‘workflow the nomination statement to the TCO for assessment’. The Business Services Agreement sets the target for processing ESI nominations as one business day, and three business days for other nomination statements.
However, where a nomination statement is deemed ‘incomplete’, the Rules direct the Civica BPO officer to reject the statement on the grounds of incompleteness.
Simon’s story illustrates one issue arising from a strict interpretation of what comprises a ‘complete’ statement.
Since 1 July 2018, the Ombudsman has received at least two other complaints where the circumstances closely resemble those in Simon’s story.
The inflexibility of Fines Victoria’s and the TCO’s approach is troubling. Simon included all the information required in a nomination statement. It is reasonable to expect an assessment of the nomination statement would consider the information in section B alongside the information in section D. While the TCO ultimately accepted the nomination statement, this type of decision should have been made without the need for Ombudsman intervention.
The rigid approach of the TCO and Fines Victoria is a result of the arrangement with Civica BPO and the strict procedures set out in the Nomination Business Rules which require Civica BPO to assess only if a statement is complete or incomplete.
In response to our draft report, the TCO said ‘it is not always the case’ that ‘the person completing the nomination can be drawn from the same name’ as the person being nominated. Accordingly, it applies strict rejection reasons in the Nomination Business Rules which led to the outcome in Simon’s story.
To avoid the bureaucratic entanglement that might ensue, we consider the decision maker should have some discretion to make further enquiries, albeit limited, to the nominating party to determine the completeness of the nomination statement.
Fines Victoria said when problems with VIEW led to significant backlogs of nomination statements in 2018, ‘holds’ were put on infringements where nomination statements had been received. This was done to allow the nomination to be assessed, processed and determined without the infringement progressing to enforcement stage.
This did not apply in circumstances where members of the public had submitted nomination statements for ESIs that were considered incomplete. In ordinary circumstances an incomplete nomination would be returned to the nominating party promptly, allowing them to resubmit within the statutory deadline. Where backlogs existed and there was possibility to extend the deadline, as is the case with ESIs, parties were out of time to submit a corrected nomination.
Isabella’s story (above) provides an example of where an incomplete nomination was returned with insufficient time to resubmit.
Complexity around the Ombudsman’s role
The Ombudsman’s role is limited to oversight of Fines Victoria and jurisdiction does not extend to Victoria Police.
Under section 15(1) of the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic), the Ombudsman must refuse to deal with a complaint that appears to involve police personnel conduct, other than for the purposes of notifying the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.
The Ombudsman’s jurisdiction does extend to Civica BPO because:
- it is a specified entity within the meaning of the Ombudsman Act.
- the Business Services Agreement is an administrative services agreement that is subject to the Fines Reform Act.
A clause in the Business Services Agreement expressly acknowledges the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over Civica BPO where it carries out administrative functions for the Victorian Government. The Chief Executive Officer of Civica BPO is the principal officer for the purposes of the Ombudsman Act; and is required to make arrangements to ensure it complies with notices from the Ombudsman.
The circumstances of the engagement of Civica BPO by both the TCO and Fines Victoria means there are challenges in determining which agency has caused the fault. In circumstances of delay, the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is enlivened because Fines Victoria has the role of ‘collecting nomination statements’. However, where there is an issue about when a nomination statement was received, or whether a nomination statement was correctly completed, this may be a complaint about the conduct of Civica BPO, or about the conduct of the TCO.
A complaint about the determination of a nomination may well fall squarely outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
Despite these complexities, Fines Victoria has facilitated resolutions of complaints informally in response to the Ombudsman’s enquiries. This includes contacting the TCO.
Handling of enquiries and complaints
Some of the more protracted complaints we dealt with show issues with how Fines Victoria respond to complaints and enquiries. Others illustrate issues with the way in which information is shared within Fines Victoria and with VicRoads.
Some issues arise because of difficult circumstances created due to delay or from human or system errors. Delay and system errors, such as those detailed earlier in this report, can be difficult to resolve. It appears that where Civica BPO or Fines Victoria officers have to unpick a series of errors and delays that have created a number of interlocked issues, it can sometimes result in unsatisfactory or inaccurate responses, or responses that do not address the specific grounds for complaint.
Fines Victoria often operates in circumstances where its decision making is bound by statutory time periods or strictly prescribed grounds for review. This can limit the discretion that officers have in any given case.
Isabella’s story (above) details errors by Fines Victoria in the processing of Isabella’s nomination request and in the advice given to her. Effectively, Civica BPO officers, on behalf of the TCO or Fines Victoria, admitted wrongdoing but determined there was nothing that could be done to rectify it. We note that a satisfactory proposal was reached after the intervention of the Ombudsman. We acknowledge that the TCO made this decision alone, however it is concerning that it was only made after an enquiry to Fines Victoria by Ombudsman staff.
This issue, and the similar issues set out in this section, suggest problems with Fines Victoria’s internal communication. They also point to an inflexible approach in circumstances where errors were apparent and clearly caused by systems operated within Fines Victoria. In many of the cases detailed in this report, Fines Victoria has facilitated satisfactory resolutions where the Ombudsman has become involved. Again, we question why these cases needed to get to the stage where the Ombudsman becomes involved.
Fines Victoria has been forthright in admitting faults arising from processing and other IT related challenges. However, the manner in which issues arising from these faults has been addressed and resolved has not been equally forthright.
Complainants such as Karen and Brian (below) needed Fines Victoria to approach their situation acknowledging that processing errors had occurred, make a careful appraisal of how these errors might have impacted on their circumstances, and identify how errors could be avoided in the future.
The first time we heard about the fine we were getting threatened with legal action ... We don’t want any legal action ... So our first thing was pay the fine and then take steps to try and deal with it. It’s just distressing. I’m seven months pregnant, and to not have a response after all this time. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a government department that has just completely ignored me. It’s just … it’s horrible.
Communication with VicRoads
Karen and Brian’s story also illustrates issues with the way in which Fines Victoria shares information with VicRoads.
The Ombudsman saw a spike in complaints in late 2018 about Fines Victoria sharing accurate and timely information with VicRoads to enable VicRoads to process demerit point nominations and licence suspensions properly. Between 1 July and 31 December 2018, we received 14 approaches regarding this issue. Ten of these approaches were in December 2018, comprising over 10 per cent of approaches for that month.
VicRoads manages the demerit point and licence consequences of traffic infringements issued in Victoria. VicRoads also provides support to Fines Victoria by sharing relevant information about individuals and vehicles for whom infringements are issued. Fines Victoria reports that information is shared on an automated basis, ‘as well as on an ad hoc basis where necessary to support Fines Victoria’s functions.’
An example of automated information sharing is the process for issuing demerit points. Fines Victoria’s role in issuing demerit points is limited to notifying VicRoads of when certain events have occurred. Through an automated process, Fines Victoria notifies VicRoads of an event such as when a fine is paid. If a fine remains unpaid, but is registered to the Director, Fines Victoria for enforcement review, VicRoads is similarly notified through an automated process. Both the above notifications would have an effect on the issuing of demerit points. VicRoads issues demerit points once it receives the relevant notification.
However, Fines Victoria does not consider that information sharing with VicRoads was amongst the significant challenges in 2018. It conceded that ‘the delineation of responsibilities between the two agencies, as well as difficulties caused by VIEW, can give the impression this relationship is not as effective’.
From the complaints we received, there appear to be two main themes: sharing of up-to-date address information and referring customers between the two agencies.
Sharing up-to-date address information
Members of the public complained that Fines Victoria was sending notices to old addresses, even after they had reason to know that an address had been updated.
Stories such as Karen and Brian’s detail where a member of the public has updated information with VicRoads only to have a reminder notice, or other notice, sent to a previous address. We acknowledge the requirements for issuing Penalty Reminder Notices and other infringement notices set out in section 162 of the Infringements Act. Some of the complaints, such as those from Karen and Brian, involved people who had notified only VicRoads of their address change. However, we note Fines Victoria’s community campaign reminding people to do exactly that.15 Fines Victoria broadly advised individuals to update their personal information with VicRoads.
VicRoads advised that Karen’s experience is ‘a known issue affecting a small number of customers which has been caused by a failure of the VIEW system to accurately use the information provided’. We did not focus on the extent of this issue in our enquiries.
Referring customers between agencies
Another issue regarding information sharing with VicRoads related to referrals between the two agencies, which is illustrated in Leanne’s story.
I cannot get an answer to my queries regarding Fines Victoria communication to VicRoads regarding my traffic infringement … I have no idea why they’ve referred me to another department when my question was very factual?
Concerns about the response to Leanne’s story
This story raises three areas of concern regarding Fines Victoria’s processes and how they connect with VicRoads.
Firstly, Leanne’s issue appears to have arisen because automated notifications were sent to VicRoads in error. We acknowledge that the volume of infringements and related activities administered by Fines Victoria which impact VicRoads means that automated notifications are essential. However, this case involves a series of automated notifications being made due to failures within the VIEW system at Fines Victoria. The integrity of many of VicRoads’ actions is dependent on the proper functioning of Fines Victoria’s IT processes. As Fines Victoria has advised, those IT processes were deficient in 2018.
Leanne said she was referred between the two agencies with both advising they could not assist. This experience has been relayed to us by other complainants. Fines Victoria responded:
" …Fines Victoria’s practice of referring customers to VicRoads may be frustrating where customers make enquiries about their number of demerit points or their licence status. This practice exists as VicRoads is the only agency able to give definitive advice on the status of a customer’s licence. There could be significant consequences if Fines Victoria incorrectly advises a customer that they are able to drive when they have in fact been suspended by VicRoads."
This response fails to acknowledge that Leanne was seeking to have the two agencies work together to resolve her problem. In Leanne’s case, each agency referred her to the other. The error could not have been resolved by going to a single agency.
Figure 3: Email Leanne received from Fines Victoria
Finally, it is concerning that Leanne’s matter still remains unresolved. It appears that the issues arising where multiple automated notifications have been made cannot be easily retracted. By Fines Victoria’s own admission, there has been a number of processing challenges in 2018 and, on balance, it is very likely that some of these resulted in incorrect automated notifications being issued.
Responding to representatives
In addition to enquiries from the Ombudsman, a number of professionals contact Fines Victoria on behalf of clients. These professionals, often representing members of the community experiencing disadvantage or specific vulnerability, play a role in assisting individuals to navigate complex legal systems. Financial counsellors, for example, contact Fines Victoria to obtain information about outstanding infringements to assist individuals experiencing financial hardship to effectively manage their debts.
Fines Victoria allow for nominated persons or organisations to make contact under either a full or limited authority.
A full authority allows a third party to take action on behalf of an individual, while a limited authority restricts a third party to making enquiries or discussing a customer’s file. A full authority for a financial counsellor requires the following information:
- the customer’s full name, which matches the details held in VIEW
- an additional point of customer identity that can be confirmed from details in VIEW
- the authority is on the organisation’s letterhead
- the authorisation states that the third party is authorised to act on a customer’s behalf.
The difficulties facing Victorians experiencing disadvantage, and their representatives, are illustrated in the following two case summaries.
Like Therese and Wendy’s story, Ali’s story shows how these communication issues are not caused solely by IT failures or procedural errors but also how individual officers assess whether representatives have ‘authority to act’ on behalf of others.
The impact on representatives, particularly those who assist members of the community experiencing disadvantage or vulnerability, who need to spend time following up with Fines Victoria, is that other members of the community may miss out on receiving services. Therese reported having a lengthy case load. Time she has to spend seeking basic information about a client’s infringements could be put towards other clients in need.
The impact for the infringements system is also quite clear. Community lawyers and community based financial counsellors assist members of the community who often have trouble advocating for themselves and interacting with agencies such as Fines Victoria. These professionals help the efficient management of the infringements system by guiding their clients through the relevant processes and explaining options. When community services cannot interact effectively with Fines Victoria, their clients can become further marginalised.
Continued monitoring of Fines Victoria
This report has sought to show the key themes and systemic issues arising from 605 complaints received by the Ombudsman in 2018. Fines Victoria admit that implementation of the reforms in the Fines Reform Act has ‘led to a range of issues which have caused frustration and inconvenience to customers’.
Fines Victoria’s position, broadly, is that a majority of the issues raised by the Ombudsman and illustrated in people’s stories, are due to challenges associated with the deployment of its new IT system which was necessary to give effect to the requirements of the new legislation.
We did not set out to investigate the failures of the IT system. However, we note the lengthy history of IT issues associated with the management of infringements in Victoria. We also note that, in October 2018, Fines Victoria said the system would achieve full functionality in February 2019. Subsequently, we have been informed that full functionality will not be achieved until June 2019. The deadline for full IT functionality has been set back repeatedly.
Our analysis of complaints received would suggest such issues are not solely attributable to the IT or administrative challenges reported over 2018. Complaints also highlighted concerns about how discretion is exercised in cases involving error, the quality of communication with the public, and the processes for handling complaints.
The Ombudsman continues to receive complaints about Fines Victoria. It is too early to determine whether the frequency and complexity of complaints has decreased in comparison to 2018. While the number of complaints received in January 2019 (69 complaints) is quite high when compared to previous years, the complaints received in December 2018 (49 complaints) and February 2019 (42 complaints) were relatively low. Ombudsman staff also report that internal processes at Fines Victoria for responding to Ombudsman enquiries have improved.
Fines Victoria has outlined improvements to internal processes which have been set out in the earlier sections of this report. Fines Victoria and Civica BPO have also recruited more staff to clear backlogs and handle processing. These initiatives may alleviate some of the issues raised in this report.
We will continue to monitor complaints received about Fines Victoria, and to liaise with the agency, to see whether the issues set out in this report are indeed being fixed, or whether an investigation by the Ombudsman is warranted.
Letter from the Secretary, Department of Justice and Community Safety
I write in response to your letter of 29 March 2019 to the former Attorney-General, the Hon Martin Pakula MP, seeking further comment on the decision to commence operation of Fines Victoria on 31 December 2017.
The transition to a new fines recovery model, which required the development of a new IT solution, has been a significant and challenging process undertaken over a number of years.
As you are aware, in 2016 the default commencement date of the Fines Reform Act 2014 (the Act) was altered to allow more time for the development of this IT solution.
The decision to ultimately commence the Act on 31 December 2017 was informed by advice from a range of sources, including the department's specialist technical advisor (KPMG) and the IT provider (Civica). The advice was that the new system would be functional at go-live with outstanding issues expected to be resolved within a short timeframe of this date.
This view was supported by various checkpoint processes that confirmed the system could be deployed by this deadline with risks able to be effectively managed. It was also supported by the fact that it was becoming increasingly unsustainable to continue to use the legacy IT system, including the financial exposure for the state in continuing with the existing provider.
The Fines Reform Amendment 2017 (2017 Act) made important changes to the Act, one of which was the introduction of the Family Violence Scheme, which had been recommended by the Royal Commission into Family Violence. To provide absolute certainty that the VIEW system could accommodate the important new scheme, the 2017 Act also changed the default commencement of the Act to 31 May 2018. In addition, the government was considering reforms to Victoria's tolling infringement system.
The government's decision to commence the Act on 31 December 20117 was based on advice from the department that on balance, while there was a spectrum of possible system issues that could arise, the contractor had advised that essential system functions could be deployed by that date, with outstanding functionality to be delivered within a short timeframe.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide further comment to support your report into complaints about Fines Victoria.
cc: The Hon. Martin Pakula
Minister for Racing
Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events
- Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 8 May 2014, 1554 (The Hon Louise Asher, Minister for Innovation).
- Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 24 February 2016, 561-562 (The Hon Martin Pakula, Attorney-General).
- Ibid 563.
- Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 20 September 2017, 2871 (The Hon Martin Pakula, Attorney-General).
- Fines Reform Act 2014 (Vic) s 32.
- Infringement Management and Enforcement Services, The Infringements Management and Enforcement Services Business Services Agreement (August 2017) Department of Justice and Regulation .
- Emma Catford. Interview by Neil Mitchell, 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell, 19 July 2018 <www.3aw.com.au/fines-crisis-may-not-be-fixed-until-next-year>.
- Victorian Ombudsman, Own motion investigation into unenforced warrants, (2013) 16.
- Ibid 18.
- Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, Digital Dashboard: Status Review of ICT Projects and Initiatives – Phase 2, (March 2016) 10.
- Emma Catford. Interview by Neil Mitchell, 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell, 16 October 2018 <www.3aw.com.au/weve-got-some-work-to-do-extent-of-issues-plaguing-fines-victorias-it-system-revealed/>.
- Fines Reform Act 2014 (Vic) s 32.
- Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) s 84BE.
- Ibid s 89A.
- Fines Victoria, Change of address? Remember to update your details with VicRoads (Media Release, 24 September 2018) <online.fines.vic.gov.au/news/change-of-address>.