Reducing homelessness: scheme helps 50 000 people out of debt

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Related Project: Homelessness, Homepage

March 13, 2019

PIAC is delighted to note the success of the Work Development Order Scheme in reducing the impact of fines on people who are financially vulnerable.

The scheme, adopted in NSW in 2011, allows people facing homelessness or who have other vulnerabilities to pay off outstanding fines through activities including volunteer work and engagement in treatment.

Legal Aid has reported that since the scheme began, more than 102,000 WDOs have been approved for over 63,000 participants, resolving $124,756 million in unpaid fines. $35 million in fines has been cleared in the last year alone.

‘Fines and debt are common problems for the people we help through the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service,’ said HPLS Managing Solicitor Roslyn Cook.

‘The Work Development Order (WDO) scheme is a really important mechanism for many of our clients, and it has helped people facing homelessness to acquire skills, work experience and educational opportunities while reducing an otherwise crippling debt. It has been wonderful to see the success of the scheme, thanks to the work of Legal Aid NSW and Revenue NSW in its implementation.’

‘When people are placed on WDOs, they pay their fines through a range of activities such as drug and alcohol treatment, education, vocational courses, financial or other counselling, mental health treatment, mentoring programs or voluntary work,’ said Roslyn Cook.

‘This is a stunning example of constructive, collaborative public policy work leading to sustained impact’ said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

PIAC’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Service first recommended the WDO program in its 2006 report, Not such a Fine Thing. This recommendation was followed by a 2011 supplementary submission, Still Not Such a Fine Thing, to the NSW Law Reform Commission Inquiry Into Penalty Notices. The subsequent work of NSW Legal Aid and Revenue NSW has made this initiative a great success.

‘We would love to see the scheme extended to other forms of Government debt, particularly for debts owed to Housing NSW and other social housing providers,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

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