WDOs: Breaking the fines debt cycle


I think I was out of jail 12 months
before I come here, you know, and I was definitely heading back
there again if I didn’t do something. I’d accumulated $15,000 worth
of state debt… ..and I was a 50-year-old man,
retired drug addict, with absolutely no skills. Who was gonna employ me? Who was gonna give me a chance
of having a go at life? The best thing around WDOs
is engagement. We finally got a tool that encourages young people
to engage with services. There’s an incentive there for them. To actually be working with us and be cutting your fines
at the same time is amazing. MEN: Keep comin’ back! If I was to sit down
and come up with a plan to help guys in our program
get out of their state debt, I probably couldn’t have done
a better job. It just fitted really well with what
we’re trying to do here at The Glen. Many men leave the program with no debts, and be able to drive. And it’s just the biggest relief
for those people. Yeah, I think it’s great, you know. For people that, you know, I don’t know, got caught up, they’re getting a fresh start,
as I am – a fresh start in life. I’m free today, you know? I’m free. I don’t owe… I don’t owe any money. I don’t owe the government nothing
and now I’m a tax-paying citizen. Debt is a huge problem
for the majority of our clients. A lot of our clients… We deal with adults, Bruce and I, so a lot of these people
that we work with have had debts since
they were 13, 14 years of age, and they’re now in their adulthood, and these debts they’ve had
for the past 10, 15 years. It’s a huge problem, because people
find their debts are so vast they’ll never be able
to address them. So they put them
in the too-hard basket and then they drive and
do things without licences and then they get themselves
into more trouble. And they’re frightened.
They really are frightened. Many clients are affected
in such a way that they may not be able
to control their behaviour. A homeless person might find that the safest place to live
is on a train. And he doesn’t have any money
to buy a ticket, and he keeps getting fined for
being on the train without a ticket. If you can’t afford to pay
that ticket, and you’re getting tickets, and
starting to get them regularly, there’s no incentive
not to get the tickets. They realise at some point, often
when they’re a little bit older, that some of those things
that they thought were pretty small misdemeanours become a big thing, because they’ve actually incurred
quite a lot of debt. I’ve seen a young person
who, by the age of 18, had accumulated upwards
of $20,000 in fines. At the stage where he was
accumulating the fines, he didn’t see any of the barriers that he was creating
for his own life. Well, I wouldn’t be able to eat
if I paid all me fines at once. I’d have lost me… I probably couldn’t afford
to pay rent or nothing. I’d have been on the streets. There was no light
at the end of the tunnel. All the mistakes you’ve made in life
against you, right, to try and become
a member of society, and with that debt over your head,
your hands are tied. You can’t have a licence. You can’t own a vehicle,
you can’t have registration. And without a car or a licence,
you’re never gonna get employment. You know, I walked in the place, and I had sort of no will
and I had no hope, and, you know, I was that down and
out, I’d sort of done that to myself. Yeah, I did have a debt.
Something like 16,000. It was a lot of pressure on myself. I was flat out at work and, um… You know, I had a bit of a drinking
problem that sort of got out of hand. Talking with young people
that have very high debts that say, “I just can’t
cope with this. “I don’t know what it means. “I don’t know whether it means I’ll
never be able to take out a loan.” And there is a sense of hopelessness
around that. LOUISE DEAN: It’s so debilitating. It’s restricting employment,
it’s restricting licence. It’s restricting where they live. It’s restricting the affordability
of their housing. MATT McGREGOR: If we can
get to that client, get their fines under control, address the underlying reasons
why they’re offending, the underlying reasons why they’re
having difficulties in their lives, then we break that cycle. WDOs are a means by which clients who are affected
in a whole bunch of different ways in terms of mental illness,
cognitive impairment, homelessness,
acute economic hardship, people that are having
difficulties in their lives, but also have a fines debt… A way that they can engage with
programs that are to their benefit but also clear their debts
at the same time. You’re actually able
to address your debt by doing some simple volunteer work or some counselling or some
drug and alcohol treatment. And that helps you
to address that debt. So during that time, you become accountable
for your previous behaviours. To me, it’s simply…
An addiction led to a debt. You’re addressing the addiction,
we’re reducing the debt. The diversity of sponsors that might
be attracted to this scheme I think is as broad as your
imagination, to be honest. If they represent a client
that has a mental illness, that is affected by drugs or alcohol, that’s homeless,
that’s in acute economic hardship, cognitive impairment, if they represent those clients then they can help them undertake as broad a range
of activities as you can imagine and participate in the WDO scheme. Well, volunteering
is our core business, so it actually enhances
our volunteering business, because we have more volunteers
to put into volunteering. From BINC’s perspective,
our mission statement is “Helping to make Bathurst
a better place to live”. So if these people are helped, you know, to reduce their fines and improve the quality
of their lives, then that’s our mission statement
in action. MATT McGREGOR: Many clients
are undertaking training, life skills courses,
any education you can think of. It’s a perfect opportunity – it’s a great opportunity to get a
little bit more training and skills. So some of the courses
that we’ve done are like, little, um,
trades courses. Um, first aid certificates. White cards. So these are all courses
that are so essential for young people to get employment. And it’s just an added incentive. You know, while you’re attending
this course, while you’re getting
this certificate, you’re also working off
your outstanding debts. I’ve done anger management,
I’ve done grief counselling, I’ve done financial counselling. Hey Dad! program. It just helps you to be
a better father. One thing that State Debt did
was they listened to us. As an organisation that was
participating in the trial, we found they were really good
at listening to us and they implemented a lot of
the feedback that we gave them. And what we heard was
“Reduce the administration “and improve the turn-around times.” And we’ve built a self-service portal that we genuinely believe
delivers on those needs. I can see the difference now. In the last few months, since
the portal’s opened up, much easier – they’ve streamlined
the whole service. All the information that needs
to go onto the portal is stuff that you have…
like, information that you have in your files already, the information that you’ve gathered
off a client you’re working with. There’s no added information
that’s required other than “What programs am I
going to do to work off these fines?” KIM ROBIN: SMART Recovery,
and the hours they’ve done per month is six hours for the month. You’ve just gotta make a phone call
to State Debt Recovery and get an enforcement
order number for the client. And you do it, and bang, send it,
it’s done, it’s approved. Generally, we do monthly reports, but that’s all on the self-service
portal now as well. BRUCE HAIN: And it takes
an hour and a half to do 21 clients. WOMAN: WDO Hotline, Anne speaking. The Work and Development Order part
of the State Debt Recovery Office, which is located in Lithgow, are a bunch
of really beautiful people and they just go out of their way
to help you. 598-372. -Hey, Tom.
-Hey, Lisa. -How are you?
-Good. With the work that our boys do
for their WDO, they’re really becoming work-ready and they’re finding an independence
in themselves that they didn’t know they had before. I got to this place,
and I was so down and out. And it just grew, you know?
It sort of allowed me back to life. I’ve got my spirit back. I’ve got, you know, my will back.
You know, I’ve got my life back. And all in seven months. Just all the tools
and that I’ve learned, and just how to live
and how to think. You’re welcome! MAN: Turn the compost
and sort the shed out. Absolutely. Yep, without a doubt. You see the shift
in people’s thinking. Bruce and I do SMART Recovery
groups for people with addictions, and I’ve seen a significant change
in their… ..the way they feel about
their addictions just by coming to these
SMART Recovery groups, and the Work and Development Order
is what’s getting them in. I actually don’t mind going at all. It’s actually quite fun, you know? It’s like a family. -Like that, Bruce?
-Yeah, mate. Beautiful. DANIEL: Yeah, we help each other
how to get off drugs and that. And most of us now have been
with this group, been getting off drugs and stuff, and showing up each week
to pay off our fines and that. I’ve never been to a different course
what’s helped me so much. I don’t think it matters
what your motive is for being there. Once a client’s there, it’s giving
you something to work with, isn’t it? They’re a captive audience, and they actually start
to engage in that program. So maybe the first day
of a training program, a course, it might be purely for that, but you’ll find that
that changes, and they’re actually there
because they want to be there and they’re actually learning. So for people that think
that this is an easy cop-out, well, it’s not,
because it actually makes change. It certainly does! I get excited when I see people being
able to participate in things like… ..just legally driving. I have one man in particular that is now going to
become a schoolteacher. And there’s no way he would have ever been able to get himself
to and from university without his licence, and it’s all thanks to the WDO. He got a real sense of achievement,
and it gave him confidence. LOUISE DEAN: A young lady,
she had outstanding fine debts. She also had large Centrelink debts. She’d been homeless for a long time. She had two young children.
They had never lived in a home. She managed to actually
improve her mental health. She started seeking counselling,
and that was part of her compliance. So through that, she started to
engage with other services. Could see one debt lifting, was able to go out
and get a licence, and through that, managed to be able
to get stable accommodation. This is a circuit breaker
in a lot of ways that allows them
to resolve their fines, get things back on track
and have a fresh start. (ALL CHATTER) GLEN: Today I pay my rent
and buy my own food. I’m an active member of society. And it’s the most
beautifulest thing.

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