Drivers rack up $17m in unpaid fines

Ballarat fine dodgers owe the state government more than $17 million in unpaid Sheriff’s Office fines. 

Sheriff of Victoria Brendan Facey revealed the statewide number of infringements issued in 2015–16 dropped by 4.6 per cent. However, long-term unpaid fines led to a 7 per cent increase in the number of warrants issued to recover $1.8 billion in outstanding debts.

BIG BILL: Ballarat residents have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid Sheriff's Office fines.

BIG BILL: Ballarat residents have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid Sheriff's Office fines.

Ballarat was ranked 32 out of 79 local government areas for unpaid fines. Data showed 8,577 people racked up 38,696 fine between the 2015-16 financial year with each debtor owing an average of $2000. 

Sheriff’s officers actioned more than one million warrants in 2015–16, using sanctions such as licence suspension, wheel clamping and asset seizures.

“Unfortunately, some people are still not getting the message that you cannot ignore your unpaid fines,” Mr Facey said.

“We don’t want to see people’s matters escalating through the system. We want people to speak to us about their options before they are caught by sheriff’s officers.” 

The Department of Justice and Regulation recently launched a new state-wide call centre to track down fine dodgers.

People who have passed the first due date on their infringement notice are automatically contacted. Since July, the call centre has contacted more than 31,500 people and recovered $16.2 million in unpaid fines. 

Mr Facey said the initiative was designed to stop people racking up significant debt through overdue notices.

“Fines can quickly escalate after infringements are issued. For example, you may be issued with a red-light infringement in January with a penalty of $389. By June, if you ignored your fine, the total penalty could be $576.60,” Mr Facey said.

Mr Facey said the public had welcomed the new initiative, which was designed as an easy and practical approach to managing fines.

“This initiative has been extraordinarily well received. In many cases, people had simply forgotten they had an outstanding fine, or just needed a little bit of help understanding the next step in the process to finalise their matter.”