The Queensland Parliament has recently passed the State Penalties Enforcement Amendment Bill 2017 with the purpose of streamlining State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER) operations. The amendments to the Act will provide for the implementation of Work and Development Orders (WDO), offering Queenslanders experiencing genuine hardship with alternative ways to reduce or pay off their debt.
In his explanatory speech, Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt illustrated that the amendments introduced by the Bill would move SPER towards a contemporary risk-based approach to debt management and recovery that would ensure SPER would be responsive to both community and government needs. He went on to note that a significant amount of SPER debtors were in financial hardship or disadvantaged in some way. He said:
Currently, the Queensland debt collection system provides very little alternative options for those experiencing genuine financial hardship. Unpaid community service supervised by Probation and Parole within the Queensland Corrective Services is the only avenue for non-monetary debt discharge at the moment. The Bill remedies this situation by providing a range of alternative non-monetary options to discharge debt in the form of WDOs.
For obvious reasons, the Bill establishes a scheme eligibility criteria “including individuals experiencing domestic and family violence, homelessness, a substance use disorder and financial hardship” in order to filter out those who can’t pay their fines and those who won’t.
The Bill also introduces a new case management approach service model to SPER. An individually customised payment plan can be arranged for debtors to comply with enforcement measures. SPER will take into account all individual factors such as amount owing and the debtor’s ability to pay when determining the appropriate collection strategy. Further debts can be aggregated into existing plans in order to reduce fees and administration costs.
The Bill will also update and streamline existing SPER fee schemes. According to the explanatory notes of the Bill, “ [it] provides for SPER fees to be added on an action basis to the debtor’s overall balance, rather than to each debt, and applied consistently across all SPER debts and enforcement activities.”
At the same time, the Bill will improve enforcement measures for non-compliance and repeat offenders. Under the Bill, SPER will be able to immobilise vehicles for up to 14 days to allow debtors to pay their debt before further enforcement measures may be taken (such as vehicle seizure and sale). Wages garnishing will also be enhanced under the Bill.
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State Penalties Enforcement Amendment Bill 2017, Bill, Explanatory Notes and Speech as published on LawOne
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