Fighting fines with fire

12 Oct 09 01:30PM EST
Post by Tanya Fong
Speed camera

Parking fines are one of the main bugbears of any motorist, especially when they’ve been wrongly issued. However, I'm interested in why consumers aren't more proactive in challenging unfair fines when the success rate is actually quite high. As we were conducting our research for our article on parking fines, we gathered a vast amount of information using the Freedom of Information request to access data from various government agencies. In New South Wales, for example, only 10% of the $150 million in parking fines were contested, out of which 30% of those who appealed succeeded. In Victoria, the success rate is 45%.

So why aren't more people appealing against unfair parking fines?

We found that almost every council in the country has information posted on their website and at the council on how to appeal against unfair parking fines. In addition, consumers can – in contesting their fines – use the Freedom of Information Act to access the information held by councils. When we asked various councils across the country how many people used the FOI – free for consumers since March this year – the numbers were so low it was not worth reporting.

Consumers seem to be more willing to challenge the $2 surcharge to use foreign ATMs or the $2.20 charge to pay Telstra bills than contest unfair parking fines – the minimum parking fine at least 10 times the amount. Perhaps this is because the process is seen as too difficult or due to a perception that you are unlikely to win. 

One of my friends was slugged with an $81 fine for unauthorized parking last year. She later found the “No parking” sign, blocked by tree foliage. I remember her calling me to vent. “It’s so unfair. If the parking attendant knew the sign was blocked, how could he issue this fine. It’s daylight robbery. I’m not paying it!” She did. When I asked her why, she said she “it’s too much of a hassle”.

After we published the CHOICE article and how to gather evidence to prove your parking fine is unfair, a consumer who was issued a $405 fine for “not displaying a valid disabled parking permit” in NSW called to ask for help. After I sent her the NSW State Debt Recovery Office’s appeal form – found on its website – she appealed. When I asked her why she had waited, she said “they should know that I did have a valid permit and if I didn’t pay the fine, they should know why.” While this seems like an obvious assumption to make, the reality is you won't get the fine dropped unless you actively challenge it.

On the other sided of the consumer-activism spectrum: the 60 CHOICE members who responded to our call-out on how they successfully appealed against unfair fines took photos of signage (or the lack of), and of their vehicles at the scene where the fines were issued. One woman even looked up the Australian Standards for roads sign as evidence that the sign was inadequately posted.

Consumer activism starts with saying “it’s not good enough” and taking that step to protect yourself as a consumer. CHOICE is certainly built on this foundation. So if you don't know where to start we can help point you in the right direction.

 

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