Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) and Redfern Legal Centre have welcomed key amendments to the State Debt Recovery Bill 2017 which passed the NSW Legislative Council last night.
The amendments, suggested by community legal centres, then moved by the government or the Greens:
- Remove a proposal that would have cancelled people’s occupational licences if they had unpaid state debt. (Govt).
- Extend the amount of time for people to provide additional information during an internal review from 14 to 28 days. (Greens).
- Reduce the penalty for debtors other than corporations for failing to provide certain information. (Greens).
- Allow people to make more than one application to the Hardship Review Board where there is new information or a change of circumstances. (Greens).
CLCNSW Advocacy and Communications Coordinator Mark Riboldi said: “If you cancel someone’s professional licence, how can we expect them to pay off their debts? It didn’t make sense and we’re very glad the government agreed to ditch this proposal.
“Community Legal Centres NSW made a number of suggestions to improve the Bill and make it fairer for people, particularly those facing economic disadvantage and other forms of vulnerability. We’re pleased that the government and the Greens supported a number of these and made the Bill better.
“We welcome the commitment of the government and Revenue NSW to continue working with community legal centres to make sure that the debt recovery system in NSW is fair and accessible,” he said.
Redfern Legal Centre Solicitor Laura Bianchi said: “We still have concerns about how this Bill will affect vulnerable people. It’s really important that we get the Debt Recovery Guidelines right, otherwise the system is going to unfairly punish people.
“For example, is it really fair for a small debt to escalate into something completely unmanageable, and for the government to take money from someone’s bank account without notice, simply because Revenue NSW has failed to obtain that person's current address?
“Research from the Law and Justice Foundation shows that disadvantaged people are hit hardest by the impact of fines, because any inability to pay on time leads to escalating penalties and further financial strain. These new laws will impact our client’s lives in the same way.
“The system needs to be designed to ensure that vulnerable people experiencing disadvantage do not fall through the cracks,” Laura Bianchi said.
Community legal centres (CLCs) are independent non-government organisations that provide free legal services to people and communities, at times when that help is needed most, and particularly to people facing economic hardship and discrimination.