What is the State Penalties Enforcement Registry?
Most Queenslanders will have heard of the acronym SPER before. SPER stands for State Penalties Enforcement Registry and it is the division responsible for collecting unpaid fines that are owed to the State of Queensland or other local authorities. So, you may be wondering, what can SPER do to enforce these payments and collect the money owing? In this article, we delver deeper into what the State Penalties Enforcement Registry is, what is done by them, how it is done, and what you need to know about SPER debts.
How does Queensland’s State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER) work?
The debts that Queensland’s State Penalties Enforcement Registry looks after can either be issued by court order, or it may be received directly from local government agencies. For example, an individual’s debt might start as any of the following and is issued by the agency (such as the Queensland Department of Transport):
- an unpaid infringement notice fine (e.g. speeding or parking ticket);
- a court-ordered penalty;
- an offender levy; and
- an offender debt recovery notice.
If this debt is not paid by the due date, this debt is then referred on to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry who will issue a default notice. This orders the debtor to make payment within a certain period of time.
The way in which this payment can be made to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry can include:
- Payment in full
- Through an installment plan
If you ignore SPER demands, what happens?
Ignoring SPER demands is not really an option, unless you’re ready to face some hefty repercussions.
If a SPER payment is not made or the installment plan is breached, SPER has the authority to take action against the debtor. These actions are serious and could include:
- SPER can seek a redirection of earnings from an employer each week to pay for the fine
- SPER can issue an order for redirection of debt to a bank that owes the debtor money or holds an account to pay for the fine
- SPER can order that the debtor’s driver’s license is suspended until payment is made.
- SPER can attach a wheel clamp to any vehicle registered in the debtor’s name until payment is made
- SPER can apply a charge on your real estate, vehicle or any other personal property to pay for the fine
- SPER can issue a warrant to seize and sell your property to pay for the fine
- In rare but extreme cases, an arrest warrant can be issued. The debtor can be jailed until payment is made.
In addition to these enforcement actions, SPER will also add an enforcement fee of $119.45 on top of your debt.
It’s important to highlight that SPER doesn’t have to prove that their notices were sent and received by the debtor. SPER simply needs to demonstrate that they sent SPER demands to the individual’s last known address. If an individual claim to not have known about a debt – likely because they have moved houses and are not receiving their mail – that is their problem. It is up to the individual to notify the Department of Transport and other key agencies when they change address.
What happens if you want to contest a debt?
If an individual hasn’t received the enforcement order yet, and the due date on the fine or court order has not yet passed, they can dispute the fine by contacting the agency or court that issued it. Once the debt is passed onto the State Penalties Enforcement Registry, it is too late to dispute or waive a debt.
In the case of infringement notices, if the individual has a valid reason to dispute the debt, they can request that the matter is heard in court. This should be carefully considered because if the individual is unsuccessful at contesting the infringement, they may be liable for extra costs on top of an offender levy.
Can’t pay a SPER debt?
On top of the installment plans offered, SPER will also consider whether individuals experiencing hardship may be eligible to pay off their debt by completing a work and development order. This is means people may be able to attend courses, counseling, and treatment programs, or completing unpaid work with an approved hardship partner as a means to pay off the debt owed.
The State Penalties Enforcement Registry will also look at what options available to individuals if they are:
- experiencing domestic or family violence
- have impaired decision-making capacity
- live in a remote Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community
- undergoing rehabilitation
- have a disability
- experiencing financial difficulty or are unable to work due to illness or injury
- in custody or were recently in custody.
These are all discussed on a case-by-case basis.
Since the Queensland State Penalties Enforcement Registry can exercise some pretty serious powers to retrieve debts owed, we recommend you seek legal advice before attending court. Our team of highly experienced lawyers can help you articulate your case effectively to the Magistrate, which can be the difference in the time required to pay a SPER debt and other enforcements such as license suspensions.
If you are looking to dispute an enforcement notice, SPER debt or a default certificate, legal advice is critical to ensure you have a strong case and sufficient evidence to dispute this effectively. Get in touch with our legal team today.