Infringements and public space offences

Infringements are the single biggest issue affecting our client group. People experiencing homelessness are: (1) more likely to get fines and infringements because they are forced to carry out their private lives in public places; and (2) less likely to be able to address the fines and infringements through payment or navigating the complex legal system.

There is no way I could've dealt with the fines by myself, the only way I did was with the help of workers and a lawyer. The letters kept coming and to deal with them there was lots of writing, it was all a bit much…Getting the fines sorted was like a weight lifted, like going to the dentist and having the pressure released. It's a good feeling. It encourages me to get my stuff a bit more organised and together, start working again - In the Public Eye – personal stories of homelessness and fines, Hamish (2013)

Homeless Law has provided targeted legal services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness for over a decade, and in this time fines and infringements has remained the single biggest legal issue affecting our client group.

We continue to assist about 200 clients every year with fines and infringements directly related to homelessness.

People experiencing homelessness are: (1) more likely to get fines and infringements because they are forced to carry out their private lives in public places; and (2) less likely to be able to address the fines and infringements through payment or navigating the complex legal system.

The types of fines and infringements that people experiencing homelessness commonly receive are for ‘public space offences’ directly related to homelessness, including begging, being drunk in public, possessing an open container of liquor, littering, using offensive language, and conduct on public transport (for example, not having a ticket, smoking on the platform or having feet on the seat). People sleeping in their cars or travelling between crisis accommodation often also incur fines for parking or tollway offences. 

In addition to being more likely to incur infringements and less likely to be able to navigate the complex review process, people experiencing homelessness are hit much harder by the monetary penalty that infringements impose (a fine for not having a ticket on public transport is 85% of a Newstart recipient’s weekly income).

There have been some law reform wins that have improved the operation of the infringements system – including the introduction of the Special Circumstances List and recognition of homelessness as a special circumstance – and a large number of homeless Victorians have benefitted from these changes. Unfortunately, the number of fines incurred by people experiencing homelessness and the difficulties involved in navigating the system remain unchanged.

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