Revenue NSW says the money will be transferred into government’s unclaimed money fund after three weeks of inaction
New South Wales residents issued with invalid Covid fines have been warned they have just 21 days to make a claim for refund before the money is paid into the government’s unclaimed fund.
Revenue NSW has been contacting 33,000 people hit with the fines for public health order breaches during pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021 to inform them of the decision to cancel the penalties after a November court ruling.
People who had already paid their fines have started receiving letters telling them to call a hotline on a weekday to provide their BSB and account number, with a warning that failure to do so within three weeks would lead to a further six-week delay.
“If we do not receive a response within 21 days of this letter, the fines may be transferred to unclaimed [money] causing a delay in funding the overpayment by up to six weeks,” the letter read.
The fines were withdrawn after government lawyers conceded that two test cases brought by the Redfern Legal Centre did not provide sufficient detail about the offence, which was a breach of the Fines Act.
Samantha Lee, a solicitor at Redfern Legal, said it was poor form for the government to make the retrieval process any longer or more challenging than it needed to be.
“People shouldn’t be chasing up money that was obtained unlawfully in the first place,” she said. “They should be making it easier to make their money back, especially at this time of year.”
Lee said the government had also failed to act on a request from the centre to prominently display information on the Revenue NSW website about the cancellation of the fines.
“They are very eager to seek payment of a fine, they aren’t as eager [to pay out] now,” she said.
The withdrawn fines relate to two breaches of the orders: “Fail to comply with noticed direction in relation section 7/8/9 – Covid-19” for an individual and a company.
The fines amounted to $1,000 for an individual and up to $55,000 for a corporation.
Scott Johnston, commissioner of Fines Administration, said the government was “actively” contacting people following the withdrawal of the fines.
“Where a fine has been withdrawn and a customer has made a payment – either in part or in full – Revenue NSW will credit the payment towards other outstanding debts or make contact to request bank account details to complete the refund,” he said.
“Revenue NSW is committed to refunding payments to customers as soon as possible and will continue to work with individuals until funds have been claimed and returned.”
He would not answer questions about why the money was being sent to unclaimed money within Revenue NSW, nor if the department would consider giving people more time to make their claim.