The changes to the Bill were made in the NSW Legislative Council late last week, before the amended legislation passed the NSW Legislative Assembly.
They key change was the removal of a proposal that would have cancelled people’s occupational licences if they had unpaid state debt.
The amendments also extend of the amount of time for people to provide additional information during an internal review from 14 to 28 days; and reduce of the penalty for debtors other than corporations for failing to provide certain information.
Finally, the new system will allow people to make more than one application to the Hardship Review Board where there is new information or a change of circumstances.
“If we cancel someone’s professional licence, how can we expect them to pay off their debts? It didn’t make sense and we’re very glad the government agreed to ditch this proposal,” CLCNSW advocacy and communications coordinator Mark Riboldi said.
“Community Legal Centres NSW made a number of suggestions to improve the bill and make it fairer for people, particularly those facing economic disadvantage and other forms of vulnerability. We’re pleased that the government and the Greens supported a number of these and made the bill better.
“We welcome the commitment of the government and Revenue NSW to continue working with community legal centres to make sure that the debt recovery system in NSW is fair and accessible.”
Also commenting on the matter, Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Laura Bianchi said, “We still have concerns about how this bill will affect vulnerable people. It’s really important that we get the Debt Recovery Guidelines right, otherwise the system is going to unfairly punish people”.
“For example, is it really fair for a small debt to escalate into something completely unmanageable, and for the government to take money from someone’s bank account without notice, simply because Revenue NSW has failed to obtain that person's current address?” she said.
“Research from the Law and Justice Foundation shows that disadvantaged people are hit hardest by the impact of fines, because any inability to pay on time leads to escalating penalties and further financial strain. These new laws will impact our client’s lives in the same way.
“The system needs to be designed to ensure that vulnerable people experiencing disadvantage do not fall through the cracks.”
Emma Ryan is the deputy head of editorial at Momentum Media and editor of its legal publication, Lawyers Weekly.
She graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism).