Knowledge and Resource Hub
10 April 2018

Fines: Are disadvantaged people at a disadvantage?

This paper uses data from the population-level Legal Australia Wide (LAW) Survey to examine whether the prevalence of problems with fines is higher for disadvantaged groups than for others. The study found that fines disproportionately affect disadvantaged people including Indigenous people, single parents, people in disadvantaged housing, people on government benefits, people with a disability and unemployed people. Adverse consequences from fine problems increased as level of disadvantage increased. Disadvantaged people were also less likely to have the financial and legal capability to handle their fines problems satisfactorily and less likely to take any type of action which was linked with less favourable outcomes. These findings suggest a vicious cycle of fines, disadvantage and debt whereby heightened vulnerability to fines, inaction, further penalty and adverse consequences can compound disadvantage. However, the findings also suggest that when disadvantaged people do get appropriate assistance for their fine problems, they achieve similar outcomes to others. The use of not-for-profit legal services was the strategy most likely to produce favourable outcomes. Ideally, to minimise detrimental consequences, disadvantaged people would be connected with appropriate assistance or would be otherwise diverted from the mainstream fines enforcement system as early as possible.