Fines Victoria IT woes tax Ombudsman’s patience

Key system at agency not likely to be fully functional before June

The Victorian Ombudsman says her office has been flooded with complaints about Fines Victoria, after the agency launched on 31 December 2017 with only partial IT functionality.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said her office received 605 complaints about Fines Victoria in 2018, which represented a 74 per cent increase on the number of complaints received about its predecessor, Civic Compliance Victoria.

“Many complaints were about delay in the processing of nominations, completing reviews and implementing payment plans,” Glass said. “Others were about call wait times and difficulties making contact, many by people deeply anxious about the impact of delays.

“The impact of these issues should not be underestimated. People had their licences wrongly suspended, or were treated as liable for substantial fines, when they had committed no offence.”

“Problems with IT functionality, and related procedural and processing issues, have been apparent since the inception of the agency and have created significant challenges,” said a report from the Ombudsman that was tabled today in state parliament.

The key application used by Fines Victoria is the Victorian Infringements Enforcement Warrant (VIEW) system, which was developed by Civica. The system is intended to draw together data from multiple government agencies, providing a central point where Victorians could pay fines.

VIEW replaced the two-decade-old Victorian Infringement Management System (VIMS), which was unable to deliver the requirements of the state’s Fines Reform Act. (A 2007 project to build a new fines system was terminated in 2015 after the agreement with supplier Tenix Solutions was varied twice and the delivery data extended, the Ombudsman’s report noted.)

“The VIEW system was scheduled to go ‘live’ in full on 31 December 2017, to coincide with the commencement of the Fines Reform Act,” Fines Victoria told the Ombudsman in a statement. “Shortly before this time, it became clear that this would not be possible, and so a decision was made to launch VIEW on this date with core functionality only and for additional functionality to be implemented progressively throughout the course of 2018.”

“The progressive implementation has been slower than first anticipated and is regrettably still not complete,” the agency said. “This lack of functionality has led to significant impacts on customers.”

The decision to commence operations in December 2017 rather than the default commencement date of 31 May 2018 was “perplexing,” the Ombudsman’s report said, “considering Fines Victoria was reporting that significant IT challenges were affecting its operation from the time it commenced.” The report noted that the agency said the decision had been taken by the government, not Fines Victoria nor the state’s justice department.

The limitations of the new system included not supporting some processes required by the agency, which led to some fines being placed on hold. The Ombudsman found that “Functionality issues were addressed with manual workarounds that took staff significantly more time than similar processes under the previous VIMS system.”

“Data provided by Fines Victoria shows the backlogs were particularly acute regarding the processing of ‘nomination’ requests and requests for payment arrangements,” the report notes.

In October 2018, Fines Victoria said that VIEW would be fully functional by February 2019. However, the Ombudsman said that goal is now not expected to be met until June this year.

“The deadline for full IT functionality has been set back repeatedly,” the Ombudsman’s report said.

However, it noted that an analysis of complaints received by the office indicated that VIEW seemed unlikely to be the sole problem at Fines Victoria: “Some stem from poor communication, inflexible exercise of discretion, or poor handling of complaints,” Glass said.

Glass said her office would continue to keep Fines Victoria under review.

“We continue to receive complaints, and it is too early to tell whether any improvements have had an effect,” she said.

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