PAYING UP: Gladstone region residents owe $8,668,000 to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry.
PAYING UP: Gladstone region residents owe $8,668,000 to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry. Iain Curry

Government shakes up SPER debt laws

THE QUEENSLAND parliament has passed legislation that will shake up the way SPER debt is collected.

SPER, the State Penalties Enforcement Registry, is a division of the Queensland Treasury which collects and enforces unpaid fines and other monetary penalties.

As of last month, 4835 Gladstone region residents owed 27,090 separate amounts to SPER, for a total of $8,668,000.

The new law will enable SPER to adopt a targeted 'case management' approach to debt collection.

Under the old system, SPER would assess each debt individually, rather than taking into account a person's entire financial situation when assessing their ability to pay a fine.

FLASHBACK | SPER debt

>> Gladstone SPER debt more than $8.2 million (January 2016)

>> SPER receipts on the rise despite collector plan collapse

>> Man has SPER debt so big Magistrate worries he'll never pay

Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the new approach would enhance SPER's ability to take enforcement action against people who chose not to pay debts, making it harder for repeat defaulters to get away with not paying.

"It will also make it easier for people who want to pay their fine to do so, and offer greater support for those who genuinely need it," Mr Pitt said.

The changes also make it possible to pay off SPER debt through non-financial options such as counselling, education and community work, managed by local sponsor groups who will recommend and supervise activities.

The program will be open to people unable to pay debts for reasons including domestic and family violence, homelessness, financial hardship, intellectual or cognitive disability, mental illness of substance use disorder.

DEBT SHAKEUP: Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt (left).
DEBT SHAKEUP: Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt (left). Chris Ison ROK221015cpitt5

A new $58.8 million debt recovery computer system has also been commissioned, to be implemented in the second half of this year, along with an outbound call campaign to remind people when they have debts owing.

Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic coordinator Stephen Grace gave a cautious welcome to the changes, calling them "a good start".

"A person experiencing a period of homelessness is more likely to interact with the criminal justice system for public space type offences," Mr Grace said.

"As a result of these interactions, many of our clients have incurred sizeable State Penalties Enforcement Registry debts that they are unable to pay without experiencing significant, further hardship.

"While the proposed scheme is a good start, we encourage the Government to continue to engage with the community sector to ensure that the proposed changes are implemented in a fair, clear and flexible manner appropriate to the difficulties faced by our clients."

SPER DEBT | The Stats

  • 4835 Gladstone region residents (postcode 4680) owe money
  • 27,090 debts owed to SPER in Gladstone
  • $8,668,000 in money owing to SPER from the Gladstone region
  • $240.2 million collected by SPER state-wide since July 2016.
  • $359,008,435 owed to SPER state-wide through the court system
  • $737,629,250 owed to SPER state-wide through the State Government

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