Consumer Watch: Ja well no fine: don’t rush to renew your licence
It’s enough to make the blood boil: after hours in the Covid queue, waiting to renew your vehicle or driver's licence, you’re within a hair’s breadth of receipt, only to be told it cannot be done until you’ve paid outstanding fines.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has warned motorists to check for outstanding fines and enforcement orders before going to renew their licences. Not only to avoid bill shock at licensing centres, but to afford themselves the opportunity to challenge those enforcement orders.
Outa says while unpaid traffic fines are preventing motorists from renewing their licences, the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) is not following the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (Aarto) law once again.
In 2017, the agency lost a court case against Fines4U for not following the correct procedure when collecting outstanding traffic fines. The court found the RTIA in contravention of Aarto and forced RTIA to reverse thousands of fines in Gauteng.
Now, Outa says numerous motorists have complained about receiving SMSes informing them that they have outstanding enforcement orders which will prevent them from renewing their vehicle or driver's licences - and in many cases, they were unaware of these unpaid fines.
Outa’s chief legal officer, Stefanie Fick says they discovered that the agency had issued enforcement orders and bypassed a crucial step in the Aarto Act. “Whether the RTIA’s failure to comply with its process is attributed to capacity constraints or malicious collection practices remains a mystery,” Fick says, adding: “Is this just about making money?”
Once a motorist is issued with a fine for a traffic offence, processes must be followed. Fick says the infringer has to be issued with an infringement notice to inform them of the offence, which must contain all the relevant information, including that they have 32 days within which to act on it, either by paying it or contesting the fine.
If they fail to act in the stipulated time frame, the RTIA must issue and serve a courtesy letter on the infringer.
The aim of this courtesy letter, Fick explains, is to ensure that the infringer is aware of the infringement and the consequences thereof.
“Where a courtesy letter is absent, the RTIA has deprived an infringer of the opportunity to comply with an infringement notice, resulting in a more serious consequence - an enforcement order. If this is the case, it means that the RTIA has failed to follow its own process.”
If that courtesy letter has not been sent, the enforcement order may be unenforceable and can potentially be set aside in court.
But setting aside a flawed enforcement order requires time and money, which the alleged infringer should not be burdened with when the “administrative flaw is a result of the RTIA’s own conduct”.
“Considering the state of our judicial system under various Covid-19 regulations, electing to have the matter dealt with in court is not something everybody may have an appetite for.”
She says the agency is not following its own processes. “You go through the whole rigmarole to renew your licence, but then they tell you that you have an enforcement order and you can’t renew. Most of us are law abiding: don’t try to catch us out like this.”
The RTIA has denied issuing orders outside the legislated time frame. The agency’s spokesperson, Emmanuel Tshehla says these orders must be issued when the registrar is satisfied that, among other things, “a period of at least 32 days has elapsed since a notice of unsuccessful outcome of a representation or a courtesy letter has been issued”.
“Accordingly, RTIA can confirm that when issuing enforcement orders, the agency acts well within the parameters of the law. The agency ensures that upon issuing the enforcement orders, all the mandatory requirements outlined in section 20(2) are met, including the fact that a minimum period of 32 days from the date when a notice of unsuccessful representation or a courtesy letter is issued has passed before the enforcement orders can be issued.”
The agency, Tshehla says, issues all the enforcement orders after a prescribed period has lapsed and “none of those enforcement orders are void of compliance to the letter of law”.
“It is the responsibility of the RTIA to issue courtesy letters and enforcement orders if no elective options are exercised, regardless of the type of an infringement. Members of the public are advised to visit www.aarto.gov.za in order to check your traffic fines, or call our call centre: 0861227861.”
Under the Aarto Act, motorists can:
* Make a representation to dispute a traffic infringement.
* Nominate a new driver.
* Apply for revocation of an enforcement order.
* Arrange to pay for infringements in instalments.
* Elect to be tried in court.
Motorists should be aware that they cannot be stopped from renewing their licences due to outstanding fines or infringement notices - only if there’s an enforcement order.
“Check beforehand, give yourself some time so you can actually ask for a revocation,” Fick advises.
To check whether you have enforcement orders or to dispute them, visit the Aarto website (www.aarto.gov.za). Request proof that it was served properly, either by personal service or registered post.
You could also apply for revocation of an enforcement order if the lawful process was not followed, through organisations such as Fines4U.
But herein lies the rub: it’s on the motorists to ensure that their details are updated on eNatis. And even if you never receive the notification via registered post or in your hands, as long as it was served at the correct address, that service stands.
The draft Aarto regulations were re-published on October 2 for public comment. Comments may be sent to [email protected] within 60 days from publication.
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.
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