National

Melbourne cops flak over parking fines

By AAP Newswire

The City of Melbourne acted unfairly in upholding fines against more than 1000 drivers who made a typo when paying their parking fees, Victoria's Ombudsman says.

The council took an overly rigid approach against drivers who confused the number zero with the letter "O" when entering their registration in PayStay apps, Ombudsman Deborah Glass found.

"The council knew the number 0 and letter O were virtually indistinguishable on registration plates, and drivers would not be aware they had made an error," she said on Wednesday.

More than 1200 motorists were affected by the mistake, which the ombudsman also said could easily have been checked when drivers requested reviews of the $83 fine.

The City of Melbourne no longer fines drivers for the typo and has agreed to refund those affected.

It will also review all PayStay fines issued in the 12 months to July 1, 2018, as well as those between November 2018 and October last year.

Ms Glass said the problem reflected an "overzealous" attitude on the part of some senior council managers that undermined the basic principles of fairness.

"(There was) a mindset that the customer is usually wrong and drivers must be punished for their infractions, no matter how small or how great the mitigation," she said.

The ombudsman also pointed to the council's previous wording of penalty reminder notices, which its own legal advice had warned was "apt to mislead a person ... and appear(ed) a threat to a vulnerable recipient".

It was sent to drivers for at least three months before being changed, after the ombudsman began asking questions.

Ms Glass could not substantiate a whistleblower allegation that council officers made the sorts of decisions to improperly boost revenue.

She welcomed the City of Melbourne's acceptance of her findings and agreement to make amends.

"I commend them for their response, and hope this report is a reminder to all who exercise discretion of the need to keep fairness at its heart," the ombudsman said.