Kids As Young As 10 Years Old Have Been Working Off COVID Fines In NSW
"Kids should be in school, not working off fines."
Hundreds of kids have had to work off their COVID-related fines, after ongoing criticism of the penalties being issued by NSW Police in the first place.
Data from Revenue NSW shows that more than 3800 children aged between 10 and 17 were slapped with fines for breaching Public Health Orders during the height of pandemic restrictions.
Of these, just over 90 percent have been withdrawn, written off, or paid, and less than one percent are currently unresolved. The remaining eight percent are being settled by Work and Development Orders (WDOs) — where participants undertake approved activities to pay off a fine as an alternative money.
The opt-in activity is seeing over 145 kids currently participate in education, vocational, or life skills courses, as well as counselling, or in some cases, unpaid labour for more than 300 fines. However, one-in-five total fines — or close to 800 — have been handled through WDOs since 2020.
This is factoring in multiple fines being issued to the same child, and no specific data available pertaining to how many children are outside the 145 figure for the approximate 500 fines since resolved.
“Revenue NSW understands customers including those under 18 may be impacted by financial hardship for penalties for non-compliance with Public Health Orders,” the government administrative division said in a statement as justifications for WDOs.
WDOs can reduce debt by up to $1000 per month, however, the COVID-related penalties can amount up to $5000, or five months commitment to work off. However, as reported by the Guardian, most of the fines sit at the $1000 mark.
There is no publicly available breakdown by Revenue NSW about how old the WDOs participants are.
“Kids should be in school, not working off fines,” said Senior Solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre Samantha Lee to the Sydney Morning Herald. “We’re of the view that many fines out there have not been issued according to law. We could have these children on WDOs … who were issued the fine unlawfully anyway.”
Legal groups have called for cautions to replace fines, among fears that disadvantaged and vulnerable communities were more likely to be targeted and affected by the punitive measures.
“Many of these children were also experiencing complex, intersecting vulnerabilities, including intellectual disabilities and/or mental health conditions, trauma background, and interrupted schooling,” they wrote to the NSW Government, who replied that a “general withdrawal of [Public Health Order] fines issued to children aged 10 to 17 years of age is not supported”.
“It’s just not suitable for a lot of kids whose lives may be a little bit more fragile.”
Last December, it was revealed that NSW Police had dished out more than $2 million worth of COVID fines to children, with penalty notices ranging from curfew compliance in areas of concern, to wearing masks in public.
“A lot of these kids are from low socio-economic areas and most likely quite vulnerable,” said Lee. “It requires compliance. They have to turn up at a certain time, at a certain place. It’s just not suitable for a lot of kids whose lives may be a little bit more fragile.”
In the financial year 2021-22, nearly 55,000 COVID-19 offence penalty notices were issued across all ages in the state, with the bulk handed down in August and September — the first two months into state’s lockdown, which lifted in October.