Infringements or fines are issued for minor offences, such as traffic offences. The amount to be paid is set out in legislation. Fines that are not promptly addressed attract additional fees and can lead to a warrant being issued.
Many Victorian Acts, regulations and local council laws allow for the issue of infringement notices (often called “on-the-spot” fines). Most commonly, infringement notices are issued for minor summary offences, including parking and traffic offences, public transport offences, public order offences (e.g. littering, drinking in a public place, and offensive behaviour), and additional offences including shop theft, careless driving, and certain offences relating to carrying knives. The penalty to be paid under an infringement notice is usually set by the legislation that creates the offence.
The Infringements Act 2006 (Vic) (“Infringements Act”) came into effect on 1 July 2006 and regulates the infringements system in Victoria. The Infringements Act operates retrospectively and applies to all fines and infringement notices, whether issued before or after 1 July 2006.
The infringements system gives anyone who has been issued with an infringement notice a number of options, including a chance to pay the penalty for the offence set out in the notice and thereby “expiate” the offence (that is, avoid any court proceedings) (see “What happens after the notice is issued?”).
While there are harsh sanctions at the warrant enforcement stage of the infringements system, the Infringements Act also contains provisions designed to alleviate the inflexibility of the system where appropriate. Many people who are living on limited incomes or experiencing homelessness accrue significant unpaid fines or infringement notices. In some cases, this is because of the person’s housing status (e.g. a person is far more likely to incur a fine for drinking in public if they have no private residence in which to drink). In other cases, there may be further underlying causes (e.g. a person is mentally ill). Importantly in such cases, the Infringements Act allows for a review of the decision to issue the fine. For example, people who provide evidence of their “special circumstances” may have their fine revoked (see “Your options if you get an infringement notice”).
An infringement notice should contain details about the offence and how to pay the penalty, including:
•the name and address of the person who is presumed to have committed the offence, if known (e.g. this may be shown as “the owner” in the case of a parking offences);
•the vehicle registration number (or other means of identification) if it is a motor vehicle offence (e.g. a traffic or parking offence);
•the date the notice was issued, and the approximate time, date and place that the offence is said to have occurred;
•a description of the offence (i.e. what law was broken);
•the amount of penalty that has to be paid, plus details of how to pay and the time limit for payment (which must be at least 28 days from the date the notice is sent or given to you);
•the enforcement agency who is issuing the infringement notice;
•a warning that if the fine is not paid within the stated time limit, further enforcement action may be taken against you and further costs may be added to the amount of the fine; and
•other options for dealing with the fine, including applying to review the decision to issue the fine, or enter into a payment plan (see “Your options if you get an infringement notice)”.
There are several ways in which you can receive an infringement notice, including:
•on your windscreen (if it is for a parking infringement); or
•by mail or delivery to your home or business.
Under the infringements system, the steps in the enforcement of infringement notices are as follows:
1 An infringement notice is issued:
apayment of the penalty fixed in the notice within 28 days (or any longer time stated in the notice) results in expiation of the offence (i.e. no further enforcement action or court proceedings will be taken); or
bnon-payment of the penalty within the time stated in the notice results in the issue of a penalty reminder notice, which adds additional costs to the original penalty.
2 A penalty reminder notice is issued:
apayment of the penalty and costs fixed in the penalty reminder notice within 28 days (or any longer time stated in the notice) results in expiation of the offence; or
bnon-payment within the time stated in the notice results in lodgement of the notice with the Infringements Court, which then issues an enforcement order.
3 An enforcement order is issued:
apayment of the penalty and costs fixed in the enforcement order within 28 days results in expiation of the offence; or
bnon-payment within 28 days results in the Infringements Court issuing an infringement warrant.
4 An infringement warrant is issued:
apayment of the penalty and costs fixed in the infringement warrant results in expiation of the offence; or
b non-payment results in execution of the warrant authorising the sheriff to seize property or, if the person has little or no property, to arrest the person or use other enforcement measures. (For more information about enforcement measures, see “What happens if I take no action?”.) However, under the Infringements Act there is also a range of further enforcement powers. In addition to the powers to seize property and person, the sheriff, or other authorised person, has powers to suspend and cancel a driver’s licence or a vehicle’s registration, wheel clamp a motor vehicle and impose wage or debt deduction orders until payment is made (see “What happens if I take no action?”).
Note that fees are added at each of these stages.
If any of the following situations apply to you, there may be options available other than paying the penalty in full:
1 you did not commit the offence alleged in the infringement notice;
2 you had a reasonable excuse for committing the offence;
3 you are experiencing financial or social hardship; or
4 you have other “special circumstances” that contributed to the offence.
Options may include:
•requesting a review of the enforcement agency’s decision to issue the fine;
•applying for payment by instalments or an extension of time in which to pay; or
•applying to have the matter heard in the Magistrates’ Court (see “Going to court”).