What’s the problem?
Under 18 (Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS) system)
- The fines system for under 18s is a waste of resources, resulting in little recovery. It is unfair and unwieldy and in our view needs to be abolished.
- Fines are way too expensive for most young people.
- Some young people don’t have enough money for public transport to get to school.
- Vulnerable young people get fines because of their situation (e.g., being homeless, unwell, struggling to survive) and can’t pay.
- Concession requirements for students are a burden.
- Fines draw young people into the court and criminal justice systems.
Adult fines system
- Too many young people get caught up in it when they have a valid reason not to be fined.
- Vulnerable young people need to be treated differently – not given fines and not put through this bureaucratic nightmare.
- Fines left unattended can result in mounting debt, worry, intervention by authorities, a criminal record and even imprisonment.
Youthlaw assists many young people with fines. Many are experiencing chronic instability which includes daily financial crisis. Many are on low or no income and the cost of accommodation, food and other necessities impacts on their ability to purchase public transport tickets even at half fare concession price. Many risk travelling without a ticket and over time get many fines.
Not only are fines expensive, not paying fines can have serious consequences including spiralling debt and a record. A criminal record can have a big impact on applying for jobs and being able to travel.These fines act to entrench disadvantage and increase interactions with the court system. Parents often pay fines, however young people without this support face court and a record and possibly even jail.
Young people pay the same amount for on-the-spot fines that adults do (except for public transport if you are under 18 years) despite the fact they often do not have an income or earn much less than an adult.
Victoria has developed a “special circumstances” system for adults to try to alleviate the pressure of infringements for certain vulnerable groups. Special circumstances include where a person is homeless, has a mental or intellectual disability or a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol, where that condition results in the person being unable to control their conduct, or understand that their conduct is an offence. The special circumstances process is slow, complicated, places a lot of burden on the vulnerable people it is trying to help and does not deal with all of a person’s outstanding fines.
Victoria also has the Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS) for children under 18 years of age, however this system seems to treat young people less favorably than if they were in the adult system. There is no central agency managing unpaid fines in the children’s system and no special consideration for young people with special circumstances. Young people who have their fines dealt with by the CAYPINS system typically receive a fine, even if they have special circumstances. This means that children are being punished more severely than adults for the same offence. Challenging fines in the Children’s Court results in a police criminal record which has other lasting consequences for young people, especially in seeking employment.
What action do we want?
We want the under 18 fines system (CAYPINS) abolished OR reformed to prevent children from contact with the court or criminal justice system.
In regard to adult fines we want a system that is:
- simple and accessible
- problem solving
- consistent and transparent
- equitable, proportionate and just.
It must include reasonable and affordable fines for vulnerable young people and discounted fines that reflect financial capacity to pay. It requires early identification and exit for young people with special circumstances and/or without capacity to pay.
On 1 January 2017, the Victorian Government introduced a new approach to fare compliance. See its Report to the Review of the Public Transport Ticketing Compliance and Enforcement (DEDJTR 2016) which was in part a response to an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman into the fare evasion scheme (see below). The Government has promised it will be simpler, fairer and more effective. It replaces the current confusing two tiered approach for fines and will end the on the spot penalty fares scheme. It will:
- target repeat and deliberate fare evaders rather than inadvertent offenders unlikely to reoffend
- use more systemic warnings in certain circumstances for passengers who inadvertently do not pay their fine
- provide better training and support for Authorised Officers and give them greater use of discretion
- improved infringement processing
- improve identification of vulnerable members of the community to keep them out of the court system.
Submissions & Research
Victorian Ombudsman’s report Investigation into public transport fare evasion enforcement – May 2016. This investigation found the current fare evasion scheme hit the vulnerable and innocently ignorant and failed to focus on deliberate fare evaders. It recommended abolishing the on the spot fine as it is not accessible to those with low income, and the introduction of a single penalty with options for review that should be made clear during a passenger’s first interaction with an Authorised Officer.
In 2014 Youthlaw and other community organisations were invited by the City of Melbourne to help develop a guidance framework for enforcement agencies to promote transparency and consistency in their internal review process and decisions. Enforcement agencies such as local councils and Victoria Police are encouraged to adopt the resulting framework and review internal special circumstances applications in accordance with them.
‘A simple, fair and effective infringements system for all Victorians’ (July 2013) was a report produced by a joint working group of financial counsellors and community lawyers (including Youthlaw). It highlighted the impacts of the fines system and made recommendations. This important resource provided a framework for reform which effectively balances enforcement and rehabilitation by focusing on the following principles:
- simple and accessible
- equitable, proportionate and just
- early identification and exit
- problem solving
- consistent and transparent
See also: A Fairer Fines System for Children: Key issues & recommendations (Youthlaw, July 2013).
An examination of the impact of unpaid infringement notices on disadvantaged groups and the criminal justice systems (February 2013) was produced by Monash University’s Criminal Justice Research Consortium. The report reveals that the fines system adversely impacts on some of our most socially and financially disadvantaged community members. The report includes a long list of recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency and fairness of the fines system, and preventing those at social disadvantage coming into contact with the criminal justice system over unpaid fines.
Young people & fines survey summary (Youthlaw, December 2013). A report based on our online survey in late 2012 that revealed just under half of the 296 young people who completed the survey had received at least 1 fine, with over two thirds being aged between 19 and 24 years. One in four had received 4 or more fines in the last year and 12 per cent had 10 fines or more. One in four of those surveyed had at least $1,000 worth of fines, with almost half of these having fines over $5000.
Youthlaw Infringements Campaign position paper (Youthlaw, August 2011). Infringements act to entrench disadvantage for already disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people and increase their interactions with court system. In this position paper Youthlaw made 8 recommendations aimed at making the infringements system a fairer, more consistent and efficient process for children and young people.
Youthlaw submission to: Infringement Trial – shop theft and wilful damage (2011). Infringements for these offences disproportionately impact on disadvantaged members of community. None of the young people Youthlaw has assisted who have received infringement notices for shop theft have been able to afford to pay the fine. Shop thefts under $600 are frequently opportunistic or connected to a client’s circumstances of disadvantage.
2010-11 Victorian Attorney-General’s Annual Report on the Infringements System. This report includes information about the activities undertaken to enforce unpaid infringement notices and to ensure that individuals are held to account for their unpaid fines. The report also outlines how those in our community who require special consideration of their circumstances are managed, to ensure our infringements system remains fair.
Getting There: A homeless youth transport policy proposal for Victoria (May 2008). Youthlaw and the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), representing a coalition of 30 youth and homelessness agencies developed this proposal for young people under 25 years, assessed by support agencies as homeless, being eligible for and issued with a full concession card or Myki card for a period of six months. A $50,000 six month pilot program was approved and run by the then Labor Government in 2009. Even though we understand it was reviewed favourably, there has not been any extension of the pilot nor introduction of the fuller concession program since.