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Fines are penalties issued to people who break the law by committing driving, parking, littering or public transport offences.

Infringement notices (also known as on-the-spot fines) are issued by police, parking inspectors, council rangers or transit officers. These only end up in court if they are unpaid or challenged.

When an infringement notice is issued

If you receive an infringement notice you usually have 28 days to take action.
Your options include:

  • pay the fine in full (following the instructions on the infringement notice);
  • ask the issuing agency for a review if you do not agree with the details of the fine;
  • ask the issuing agency for a review if you have special or exceptional circumstances (see section below) which should result in a waiver of the fine;
  • ask the issuing agency for a payment plan or more time to pay;
  • notify the issuing agency that you wish to go to the Magistrates’ Court (you should seek legal advice before choosing this option); or
  • ignore the fine and do nothing, which will result in the matter being referred to the Infringements Court (Magistrates’ Court).

You should note that children/young people have the same rights and obligations as adults, and the same payment options when dealing with fines. However, fines issued to people under 18 will be dealt with in the Children’s Court under the Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS), rather than the Magistrate’s Court.

What is a payment plan?

If you are unable to pay a fine on time, you can ask the issuing agency for a payment plan under which you can get more time to pay or pay by instalments or a combination of these. If the agency agrees to a payment plan, any failure to stick to the plan may incur extra penalties.

Special or exceptional circumstances

If you have what the law regards as special circumstances you can apply for your fines to be withdrawn.
Special circumstances include:

  • a mental illness;
  • an intellectual disability;
  • an addiction to drugs, alcohol or other substances; and
  • homelessness.

If you have special circumstances you will need to write to the issuing agency explaining your special circumstances and request a review of the fine. You will need to include at least one doctor’s letter detailing your condition and how it contributed to you incurring the fine and/or your capacity to repay the fine.

A financial counsellor or your community legal centre will be able to help you to write your application letter to the issuing agency and will also be able to give your doctor some guidance as to what to say in their supporting letter.

Exceptional circumstances are not defined by the law. However, they are likely to cover broader circumstances than those that amount to ‘special circumstances’.
Some factors may include:

  • personal circumstances, whether permanent or temporary, including poverty, age, debilitating life events such as serious acute illness, language or literacy difficulties and cultural differences, which can affect a person’s capacity to control their actions or understand the offence they have committed;
  • the relative gravity of the offending conduct; and
  • whether the offence is a first offence.

If you ignore the fine and do nothing

If a fine isn’t paid within the 28 days allowed, a penalty reminder notice will be issued and extra costs added to the fine. You will then have a further 28 days to pay the amount set out in the penalty reminder notice (which will consist of the original infringement penalty as well as any additional costs that have accrued). At this point, it will still be possible to arrange a payment plan or elect to go to the Magistrates’ Court for a hearing.

If the required amount remains unpaid on the penalty reminder notice due date, the fine will be sent to the Infringements Court (a venue of the Magistrates’ Court that processes unpaid fines) and an enforcement order (which includes extra costs) will be issued for payment within 28 days. If you are unable to pay the enforcement order, you can apply to the Infringements Court for a payment order allowing you to repay your enforcement order in regular instalments.

Failure to comply with an enforcement order or payment order may lead to further action being taken by the Infringements Court. The Infringements Court registrar may then:

  • revoke (or cancel) the enforcement order for review by the issuing agency;
  • summons you to attend court for questioning about payment arrangements;
  • issue a warrant for your arrest if you fail to attend according to the summons; or
  • issue an infringement warrant under which the sheriff can settle the fine by way of payment or seizure and sale of your property.

When an infringement warrant is issued

The sheriff’s office is responsible for executing infringement warrants issued by the Infringements Court to people who haven’t paid their fines. If an infringement warrant is issued you will receive a Seven Day Notice which gives you seven days to either pay the outstanding amount, apply for an instalment order, or apply for revocation (cancellation) of the enforcement order that triggered the warrant. If you fail to take action within seven days, the sheriff can proceed and impose one or more of the following sanctions:

  • seize and sell personal goods (excluding basic household items like a fridge and computer) to cover the cost of the fine;
  • clamp the wheel of a car or motorcycle registered in your name until payment is made;
  • suspend your driver’s licence or motor vehicle registration until payment is made;
  • apply for an attachment of earnings order to your wages or bank account; or
  • sell your house.

The sheriff can also arrest you if you have insufficient property to cover the fine and:

  • release you on a community work permit, if appropriate; or
  • release you on bail to go to the Magistrates’ Court.

When will your fine go to the Magistrates’ Court?

There are a number of points at which you can elect to have a hearing about the fine in the Magistrates’ Court. If you have only just received the fine and either: you do not believe you broke the law; it was not you who committed the offence; or you don’t believe you should have to pay the full amount of the fine, you can go to the Magistrates’ Court to challenge it. You can also go to the Magistrates’ Court if you have asked for an enforcement order to be revoked but the Infringement Registrar has refused.

You may also be required to attend court if the issuing agency or the Infringements Registrar chooses to take the matter to the Magistrates’ Court because you have not paid a fine or enforcement order.

When you attend the Magistrates’ Court for unpaid fines and enforcement orders, the magistrate may cancel the fine, or reduce the fine and/or remove extra costs. However, the magistrate may also increase the fine, order the payment of court fees and cancel or suspend your driver’s licence. If you are found guilty of the offence, the magistrate may also record a conviction. In certain circumstances – for example if you suffer from mental illness, have an intellectual disability or have special circumstances (explained above) – the magistrate may decide to discharge the fine (i.e. find you guilty of the offence, but not require payment of the penalty).

If you are appearing before the court because an infringement warrant has been issued, the magistrate may also place you on a community based order so that you work off the fine, or send you to prison if appropriate (Note: you cannot be sent to prison for unpaid fines unless you have been before a magistrate and it will usually only be done as a last resort).

Regardless of the sentence imposed, any conviction for a non-traffic related offence will also appear on a Victorian Police criminal record check.

Further information

MoneyHelp 1800 007 007
Consumer Action Law Centre 1800 466 477
Department of Justice
Victorian Legal Aid

The funding for this fact sheet was provided by the Victorian and Australian Governments.

The information on this fact sheet is general and does not constitute legal advice.

MoneyHelp’s products and services have been prepared for the information of Victorians who are experiencing financial difficulty. Phone 1800 007 007 to speak to a MoneyHelp financial counsellor. A financial counsellor will discuss a range of debt payment options based on an individual’s circumstances.

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Last updated April 2016