MHCC Mental Health Rights Manual

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Part 7 Section H: Fines

This part of the Manual discusses what fines are and what you can do if you have unpaid fines including getting time to pay and the option of getting a 'Work and Development Order' , which allows you to 'pay' off a fine through voluntary work, participating in a course or training program, or in a treatment program.

7H.1: What is a fine?

A fine is a penalty for breaking the law (perhaps by committing a criminal offence or breaching a regulation, such as the regulations governing what you can and can't do on railway property). A fine is the penalty of having to pay money rather than having to go to jail, promise to be of good behaviour (under a bond) or do unpaid community work.

Fines can be the penalty set by a court or be the penalty set through a 'penalty notice' or 'infringement notice' (where the penalty is imposed 'on the spot') that is issued by an authorised officer (including some local government employees and some railway employees, for example). Where a fine is imposed on you through a penalty or infringement notice, you can choose either to pay the amount of the fine, or not to pay it and go to court to say why you shouldn't have to pay the fine.

7H.2: What you can do if you get fined

Don't ignore fines: they don't go away. If you ignore a fine, you may end up in more trouble and it is very likely to cost you more!

If you think the fine should not have been given to you, you can challenge it.

The first way to challenge a fine is to write to or contact the organisation that issued it, for example, RailCorp or the local council. If you are going to do this you should get onto it quickly because delays might result in the fine being taken to the next stage and you facing a bigger penalty.

The second way to challenge a fine is by going to court. If you want to challenge the fine in court you need to indicate this on the penalty notice. There is information (usually on the back of the penalty notice) about what to do if you want to challenge the fine in court.

If you can't afford to pay a court-imposed fine all at once, but are willing and able to pay it off in smaller amounts you can ask for time to pay. If you have been given time to pay a fine by a Local Court but still can't pay on time, you can ask for an extension of the time to pay; click here for more details.

If you don't ask for further time to pay and then don't pay the fine within the time allowed, or don't make any instalment payments required, the fine will be referred to the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) for further action.

The SDRO is the NSW Government office that collects outstanding fines of all kinds, including fines for transport fare evasion, and court-imposed fines.

When you get a fine, the SDRO will first send you what is called a penalty notice. If you don't reply or don't pay the fine the SDRO will send a reminder. If you ignore this reminder notice, extra financial penalties will then be added. If you still don't pay the fine, the penalties increase and it can also lead to the suspension of your driver's licence, cancellation of your car registration, and in some cases your property may be taken!

There are options for you if you can't afford to pay a fine, including an overdue fine. To find out more, click here.

7H.2.1: What are your options if you can't afford to pay a fine?

If you can't pay the full amount of the fine or if you have some other problems (such as medical or serious financial problems), there are a few options you have:

  • If you can't afford to pay the fine, you can apply to the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) for time to pay. If your application is approved this means that the SDRO will let you pay-off your fine(s) in instalments that you can afford. If you want to apply for time to pay, you can usually do this by phone or by completing the Payment by instalments – Individuals form. To apply by phone to pay by instalments, contact the SDRO between 8.00 am and 5.30 pm Monday to Friday on 1300 655 805* or (02) 6354 7255 for teletypewriter (TTY) users.
  • If you have serious medical, financial or other hardship problems, or you have a disability, or were homeless or mentally unwell at the time that you got the fine(s), you may be able to have your fine written off. You can apply for the fine(s) to be written off once you have been sent an enforcement order for the fine(s) by the SDRO. You usually have to get medical reports and other information about your situation to support your application.

To apply for your fine(s) to be written off, you need to write a letter to the Director of the SDRO. Your letter must contain: your full name, date of birth, address and licence number (if you have one); the enforcement order number(s); the grounds for your application, that is, financial, medical or domestic problems, or a combination of these; and your current financial situation. You also need to fill out a Statement of Financial Circumstances form, showing: your income, all the things you own and your current debts. This form helps SDRO assess your regular living expenses. If you are unemployed, or not working full time, you need to provide your social security details. You also need to explain why you think your situation will not improve. To access the Statement of Financial Circumstances application, click here and follow the links. You then send your letter and the completed form (and any supporting documents) to the Director of the SDRO, PO Box 786, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012.

For more about applying to have a fine written off, click here.

  • If you apply to have your fines written off, and the Director of the SDRO says no, you can apply to the Hardship Review Board for a review the decision. Click here to access the Application for Review of a State Debt recovery Office Decision form. For more about applying to the Hardship Review Board, click here.
  • The SDRO is testing another way for people with fines to deal with them, through Work and Development Orders.  Work and Development Orders allow certain people, including people with mental illness, who have unpaid fines to pay off their debt through unpaid work or through doing courses or treatment programs. Click here to find out more .

7H.2.2: To talk to a lawyer

Dealing with fines on your own can be tricky! If you would like some help working out your options, it is a good idea to get in contact with a lawyer.

For initial telephone advice or information where you can get free legal advice, you can call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529*.

* Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) and to Local call numbers (numbers starting with 13 or 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

7H.2.3: Work and Development Orders

The Work and Development Order scheme has been set up to allow people who face particular disadvantages to deal with unpaid fines without having to pay them off with money.

Not everyone is able to deal with their fines in this way. In order to be eligible for the scheme you must:

  • have a mental illness, an intellectual disability or a cognitive impairment; or
  • be homeless; or
  • be experiencing acute economic hardship.

If you fit into one of these categories you can apply to the SDRO to do a Work And Development Order. Your application must be supported by an organisation that is approved by the SDRO or by a qualified health professional (such as a doctor or a psychologist).

To complete a Work and Development Order, you can:

  • do unpaid work for an approved organisation
  • receive medical or mental health treatment
  • do educational, vocational or life skills courses
  • attend financial or other counselling
  • receive drug or alcohol treatment
  • participate in a mentoring program (if you are under 25)

Contact the SDRO on 1300 478 879* to ask for an application form and to find your closest approved organisation that can help you to complete and lodge the application or click here to access a Work Development Order form together with information about Work Development Orders.

* Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) and to Local call numbers (numbers starting with 13 or 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.



  • The legal and other information contained in this Section is up to date to 13 September 2010
  • This Manual only refers to the law and practices applying to the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW).
  • MHCC does not guarantee the accuracy nor is responsible for the content or the currency of the content of external documents and websites linked to this Manual.