ALL fines hurt, but especially for those with least capacity to pay them.
Legal Aid NSW has been combating accumulating fine debt since 2009 by connecting vulnerable people to the Work and Development Order scheme and has already noticed gains.
The scheme works by connecting those in debt with unpaid work, education, vocational or life skills courses, financial and other types of counselling, and even mental health, drug or alcohol treatment.
Birrang Enterprise Development Company has been running sessions at Glenroi, Bowen, Bathurst and Kelso, attracting up to 50 at a time.
Training co-ordinator Peta McGrath said three-hour sessions equated to the removal of $150-worth of fines, up to a cap of $1000 a month.
“Which is huge – you can attend for a couple of weeks and get your fines paid off,” she said.
Whole families have evolved, they get their kids back, they get treatment, they get off the drugs.Birrang training co-ordinator Peta McGrath
“The idea is making life at home on a low income easier, so things like healthy eating, budgeting, parental rights and responsibilities and home maintenance.”
Legal Aid solicitor Lynne Worrall said accumulating fines added an extra impediment for low-income families.
“Their driver’s licence can be suspended or a block can be put on so they’re not even allowed to apply for a licence,” she said.
“They’re the most vulnerable people in society and they’re the ones that can’t pay – it’s a bit of a downward spiral.”
She said a loss of licence could lead people to face court for driving while suspended, and more fines, if they took the risk.
Ms McGrath said she had witnessed people move from homelessness to government housing to private rentals in three years because a licence and independence meant they could more easily seek work.
“Whole families have evolved, they get their kids back, they get treatment, they get off the drugs,” she said.
The Central West’s fine debt was at $45.1 million as of November 2018, with $3.9 million repaid through the program.
It is targeted only at those suffering severe economic hardship, an intellectual disability or addiction and set criteria applies.
Contact the Orange Legal Aid office on 6362 8022 or Revenue NSW.
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