Fines in Victoria
When you have limited income you may be tempted to put off paying your outstanding fines to pay what seem to be more pressing bills and debts such as your mortgage. But the consequences of not paying fines can be very serious. You must treat a fine as a priority debt.
Strict time limits apply to the payment of fines; your options differ depending on the stage of the infringement process the fine has reached. It is important for you to act quickly.
Unpaid fines may lead to:
- your property being seized and sold
- a requirement that you undertake community work or,
- in extreme cases, you may be sent to prison. However, you cannot be sent to prison for unpaid fines without first appearing before a Magistrate.
Seek legal advice if you receive papers to attend the Magistrates’ Court in relation to a fine.
Types of fines
Fines fall into two general categories:
- infringement notices (also known as on-the-spot fines) which are issued by a police officer, transit officer, parking inspector or council ranger, and only end up in court if they are unpaid or challenged; and
- fines that you have been ordered to pay by a magistrate.
An infringement notice will give you at least 28 days to pay or take other action. If you do not act by the due date on the notice, you run the risk of being issued with a penalty reminder notice and having to pay additional costs.
If you have an infringement notice and are experiencing financial hardship, you can apply to the issuing enforcement agency and:
- ask for more time to pay; or
- request that you pay by instalments.
You should make your request in writing as soon as possible after you receive the notice.
The agency cannot refuse to offer you an extension of time to pay if you hold a Pensioner Concession, Health Care Card or Veterans’ Affairs Concession Card. This is the case for both the original infringement and a penalty reminder notice issued due to non-payment.
If you don’t hold one of these concession cards, you may still apply to the enforcement agency on the basis of financial hardship. However, it will be up to the agency whether to grant you a payment plan. The agency will make a decision based on the information that you can provide them with, so it’s important you provide them with evidence that demonstrates your financial hardship.
Once you have received a penalty reminder notice that the infringement hasn’t been paid by the due date and you have taken no other action like asking for a payment plan, it will be sent to the Infringements Court. An enforcement order will be made against you and the court will charge you extra costs; you have 28 days to pay. The court should consider your financial circumstances if they decide you should pay by the instalments. You mayreceive an additional fine if you refuse to give the court details of your income and outgoings when ordered to do so. The court can make deductions from your wages either when they set the fine, or if you fall behind with payments.
When you reach the Infringement Court
When an infringement notice is registered with the Infringements Court you usually have 28 days to pay it. If you cannot afford to pay, ask the court for a payment order where you can:
- get more time to pay; or
- pay by instalments.
If an infringement remains unpaid, the Infringements Court registrar may issue an infringement warrant. Infringement warrants are usually directed to the sheriff who will attend your home and ask you to pay within seven days. If the fine is not paid in that time, the sheriff can enforce payment of the fine by seizing and selling your assets (apart from basic household items like a fridge or television) or income, or the court may issue an infringement warrant.
If you are arrested under an infringement warrant, the sheriff’s officer will offer you a Community Work Permit (CWP) if you are eligible. The permit sets out the amount of the penalty and the hours you must work. If you are not eligible for a CWP or if you refuse to agree to one, you will have to go to court.
Imprisonment for unpaid fines is the last resort, and is only applied in the Magistrates’ Court for people who wilfully refuse to pay when they are able to. The prison term is calculated at the rate of one day’s prison for each $100 fine up to a maximum of 24 months. The prison term imposed may be served full time or as periodic (weekend or mid-week) detention. (Back to top)
Fines and bankruptcy
If you are considering going bankrupt on a fine you should seek advice from a financial counsellor or Consumer Action Law Centre as infringements and fines are not usually cleared by bankruptcy.