Debt collector to chase fine evaders
THE man controlling Queensland's purse strings plans to engage a professional debt collector by the end of the year to recover $771 million from flagrant fine evaders.
Treasurer Tim Nicholls said he was now investigating whether he needed legislative change to send contracted money men to knock on people's doors and seize their assets.
He said the Australian Tax Office had recovered $400 million in outstanding taxation debts in the first year it used debt collectors and he wanted to begin a similar trial for the State Penalties and Enforcement Registry by the end of 2012.
Mr Nicholls said moving to a "more vigorous debt collection system" to target "chronic and repeat defaulters" could generate $48 million in additional revenue for the state.
There is speculation there will be a generous chunk of money to aid the scheme when the State Budget is revealed on September 11.
When asked about whether people in the lower socio-economic demographic, who frequent the court system, would be forced to pay, Mr Nicholls said departments would have to make policy decisions on individual cases.
"I think most people would think, irrespective of your capacity to pay, you shouldn't go around treating the SPER system you can continue to use as an unlimited credit card so you can continue to park where you like, speed when you like and just say 'sorry I can't afford to pay' and get out of paying it," he said.
"They get a fine and just keep putting it onto their SPER debt and never pay it off."
While the biggest debts were in areas with the largest populations, Mr Nicholls said the figures in regional Queensland were also disturbing, noting "substantial" $11 million in fines owing from the Rockhampton courts and $7.8 million in the Mackay courts.
But he said it was important not to compare regions noting Ipswich could catch a lot of Brisbane or Logan people and Mackay had a large fly-in fly-out population which could affect the figures.
"I think people in the regions would be most interested to learn how much is going through their courts in terms of fines being accumulated over time," he said.
"More than 50% of our expenditure goes outside of the south-east corner and so while we don't get that money back in, it makes it harder for us to (distribute) money back out into the regions
Mr Nicholls said he would seek offers from mercantile agents about how they would recover these debts but he would also look at other options.
"More than 50% of them are over three years old so that makes it very difficult to collect so we want to tap into the expertise of people who do it all the time," he said.
"(Other options) could be that if you have a SPER debt and you haven't paid it and you sell your car, then we won't allow that transfer to take place until you pay the debt.
"It's like what already happens with outstanding council rates or land tax, the government will be able to say when you sell it we'll take $220 to pay the speeding fine or to pay the outstanding debt.
Mr Nicholls said people on payment plans with SPER would be safe from debt collection but he would be reviewing arrangements because people paying $5 a month for 120 years was not acceptable.
"Some of the arrangements are quite patently ridiculous and I think we would look to making sure those arrangements also are more carefully considered," he said.
The State Government already has provisions to extract money from bank accounts, clamp vehicles and issue an arrest warrant for failure to pay fines.
- $771 million SPER debt comprising 901,000 debtors with 2.85 million debts at July 31, 2012
- About 1.62 million of those debts are under active enforcement or awaiting enforcement.
- About 170,000 have been deferred due to dispute or death.
- There are 845 debtors who each have more than 30 debts, each debt worth more than $10,000 each. They have defaulted at least four times on payments.
- This group has 47,728 debts, owing a total of almost $13 million.
- The most currently owed to SPER by an individual is $330,089.
- One debtor still owes SPER $255 for fines (eight speeding and one drink-driving) dating back as far as 1998.
Queensland's top 5 SPER debtors in magistrates courts:
- Brisbane: $44 million
- Southport: $38 million
- Townsville: $24 million
- Beenleigh: $18 million
- Cairns: $15 million
- SPER debt imposed in all levels of regional courts:
- Sunshine Coast (all): $15.4 million
- Ipswich courts (all): $10.7 million
- Warwick courts (all): $1.8 million
- Toowoomba courts (all): $6.8 million
- Bundaberg courts (all): $4.9 million
- Rockhampton courts (all): $11 million
- Gympie courts (all): $2.3 million
- Hervey Bay courts (all): $4.2 million
- Mackay courts (all): $7.8 million
- Gladstone courts (all): $4.8 million
THREE CASE STUDIES
Debtor profile 1:
In December, 2000, a 44-year-old began receiving infringements twice daily for parking illegally in and around Margaret Street, Brisbane.
In December, 2009, after racking up $52,113.45 in 535 unpaid parking and speeding fines, the person was identified as a potential candidate for vehicle immobilisation.
In March, 2010, SPER issued a Notice of Intention to Immobilise Vehicle. In May, Brisbane City Council advised SPER that the debtor continued to park illegally.
SPER executed a Vehicle Immobilisation Warrant on Margaret Street.
The debtor contacted SPER and advised a payment of $5000 would be made within seven days and a further payment of $10,000 would be made by the end of July 2010.
A direct debit instalment plan was established for the remaining funds.
The $10,000 payment was never made. In July last year the instalment plan was cancelled due to two consecutive payment defaults.
SPER issued a Fine Collections Notice to the debtor's bank account.
The debtor has repaid a total of $36,425 since January, 2010.
Debtor profile 2:
In December, 2009, a transport company which had received hundreds of traffic fines was identified as a potential candidate for seizure and sale.
The debtor paid $8000 but continued to incur hundreds of new fines.
About 350 fines were withdrawn from SPER and issued to the drivers who committed the offences.
The company now has 491 fines registered with SPER, totalling $105,725.60. Of the 491 fines, 313 relate to unpaid tolls.
The debtor is seeking to transfer about 300 of the fines into the names of the drivers who incurred the fines.
SPER has advised the company that it has two months to successfully complete the statutory declaration process or enforcement action will be taken.
Debtor profile 3:
A 55-year-old received 14 fines for drug and traffic offences, as well as failing to vote and having an unregistered animal.
The debtor entered into several payment instalment plans, but continued to default regularly.
In the last 18 months, the debtor has received a further 135 fines for toll evasion.
The debtor has so far paid just $5,084 of the $26,760.90 owed to SPER.