Complaints about Victoria's central fine agency have skyrocketed after the government ploughed ahead with major reforms to infringement management with only a partially operational IT system.
In a scathing assessment [pdf] of Fines Victoria released on Wednesday, the state's Ombudsman said complaints had “soar[ed]” since the body and new system was introduced in December 2017.
The report reveals 605 complaints about the agency were received during 2018 – a 74 percent increase on the number of complaints received about Fines Victoria’s predecessor, Civic Compliance Victoria, the previous year.
The complaints largely relate to processing delays and errors caused by the Victorian infringements enforcement warrant (VIEW) system, which was introduced to replace the state’s legacy infringement and warrant system.
The report considers the system “an essential element” the state’s new fines management model, allowing Fines Victoria to “fulfil its role as the centralised portal” for Victorians to review and pay fines.
“Problems with IT functionality, and related procedural and processing issues, have been apparent since the inception of the agency and have created significant challenges,” the report states.
The issues stem from the decision to launch the system, developed by Civica International at the cost of $103 million, with only core or partial functionality, despite originally planning to launch the system in full at its go-live on 31 December 2017.
The agency told the Ombudsman it became apparent full system functionality would not be possible shortly before the go-live, and so a decision was made to launch it and add functionality during 2018.
This immediately “led to a significant rise in activity and resulting processing backlogs”, with the Fines Victoria unable to serve instruments like notices of final demand until months later.
The Ombudsman noted the decision was “perplexing” given Fines Victoria had until 31 May 2018 to commence operating under the Fines Reform Amendment Act 2017, and was aware of “significant IT challenges were affecting its operation from the time it commenced”.
The agency said "the decision was taken by the government, rather that the then Department of Justice and Regulation (DJR) or by Fines Victoria”.
The Secretary of the now Department of Justice and Community Safety told the Ombudsman on behalf of the former Attorney-General that the department had received advice that the system would be functional at go-live and that outstanding issued would be ironed out soon after.
“This view was supported by various checkpoint processes that confirmed the system could be deployed by this deadline with risks able to be effectively managed,” he said.
“It was also supported by the fact that it was becoming increasingly unsustainable to continue to use the legacy IT system, including the financial exposure for the state in continuing with the existing provider.”
While Fines Victoria acknowledge “that the cause of many of the complaints was the new IT system”, it has still not rectified this issues more than a year later.
The Ombudsman indicates that full system functionality is now not expected until June, despite previous assurances from the agency that this would happen by February 2019.
“The deadline for full IT functionality has been set back repeatedly,” the report states.
The agency has brought on more staff at an additional cost of at least $5 million into the contact centre – a contract also held by Civica – to get through the backlog of fines.
VIEW represents the second attempt by the state’s Justice department to replace the fines system after a 2007 deal with Tenix Solutions was ripped up.