5. Fees

Current law and practice

  1. 5.1 The consultation paper posed the question of whether it is appropriate to charge a fee for a birth certificate. As discussed in previous chapters, a fee is charged by the Registry to search the Register and provide a copy of the contents contained within a particular entry. Different types of birth certificate (standard, commemorative, abridged etc, as discussed in Chapter 4) are available for purchase from the Registry, and different fees are charged accordingly.
  2. 5.2 With the passage of An Act for Registering Births, Deaths, and Marriages in the Colony of Victoria 1853 (Vic), the colonial administration initially provided free access to birth certificates upon registration.1 However, in the following year, a schedule of fees was introduced for birth certificates and for searches of the Registry.2
  3. 5.3 Until 1996 the Registry issued an extract of entry of birth at no cost upon receipt of the registration of birth. A birth extract is no longer accepted as a proof-of-identity document by most government agencies, which generally require a standard birth certificate, or other documentation.
  4. 5.4 In this chapter the Commission will discuss fees for birth certificates.
  5. 5.5 To obtain a birth certificate, a person must complete a birth certificate application either at the time of registering the birth or later. Both applications require payment of the prescribed fee.
  6. 5.6 The current fee for a standard birth certificate in schedule 2 of the Regulations is $28.60.3 The fee can be paid by cheque or money order, or through the provision of credit card details (Visa, Mastercard and Amex) if applying by post. Justice service centres and the central Registry will accept a cash payment if an applicant visits the centre in person.
  7. 5.7 The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) (the Act) by section 49 provides that:

The Registrar may, in appropriate cases, remit the whole or part of a fee under this Act.

  1. 5.8 No criteria for remissions are set out in the Act. The power to remit is thus discretionary. 
  2. 5.9 The Commission was informed by the Registry that the power to remit is seldom used.4 The Registry does not produce publicly available guidelines explaining how the Registrar’s discretion to waive a fee is exercised. Current legislation differs from earlier statutes, which provided:

The Government Statist may remit the whole or any part of any such fee if in his opinion payment of the whole fee would entail serious hardship.5

  1. 5.10 The provisions in the current Act provide greater discretion to the Registrar to consider cases that may include, but are not restricted to, serious hardship.

Other Australian jurisdictions

  1. 5.11 As outlined in the consultation paper, most registries in Australia are self-funding in that they derive their overhead and operating costs from the fees they charge for the services and products of the registry (such as certificates).
  2. 5.12 All Acts (with the exception of Queensland)6 have provision for the Registrar, in appropriate circumstances, to waive fees.7 The Commission understands that in all jurisdictions fee waivers are seldom granted.
  3. 5.13 There are, however, examples of natural disaster-related and time-limited fee waivers applying in some jurisdictions. As a response to the Queensland floods in early 2013, the Queensland Registry is providing free replacement life event certificates. The Queensland Registry notes that all life event certificates, regardless of the location of the life event, will be replaced at no cost, thanks to cooperation by other state and territory registries.8
  4. 5.14 The Queensland Registry advises that such arrangements are usually reciprocated on request.9 The Commission notes that this practice occurs despite the lack of an explicit provision within the relevant legislation.
  5. 5.15 Likewise, the Tasmanian Registry has also issued free replacement life event certificates for those affected by the 2013 bushfires in that state.10 Fee waivers for disaster-related events are also offered by Commonwealth agencies such as the Australian Passport Office. These may be granted to individuals affected by flooding, bushfires and severe weather events.11
  6. 5.16 In the Northern Territory from July to October 2011 the Registry waived fees for all birth certificates (including issue and name changes) prior to the introduction of the Northern Territory’s Enough is Enough alcohol reforms. These reforms required people to show photo ID to purchase take-away alcohol in the Territory.12 The fee waiver assisted people to obtain a birth certificate, which is the primary document required to obtain photo identification such as a driver’s licence, passport, proof-of-age or Ochre Card.13 
  7. 5.17 A limited fee waiver is available in Western Australia for people who are legally aided. This waiver also applies to authorised agencies that may require certificates on behalf of clients (for example law enforcement agencies for the purpose of criminal prosecution).14 The WA concessions website has recently added information on fee waivers for birth certificates and the Registry. This includes information on how people receiving legal aid can apply for a fee waiver.15
  8. 5.18 The NSW Registry advertises (to a limited extent) the ability to waive fees for members of the Stolen Generations. No further information is publicly available about waivers or other criteria.16
  9. 5.19 At the time of writing the Victorian Registry did not provide publicly available information on the criteria applied to fee waiver applications, but the Commission is aware that it is undertaking a review of its service provision.

International jurisdictions

  1. 5.20 Varied practices exist in international jurisdictions surveyed. Most require payment of a prescribed fee for the issue of a certified birth certificate at the time of registration. Some jurisdictions issue extracts of birth registration entry on the Register at no cost, effectively providing a receipt of registration, for example, local authorities in England and Wales (see Appendix F in the pdf version of this report).
  2. 5.21 Jurisdictions surveyed also require a fee for replacing a birth certificate. Some limited fee waiver criteria apply, which are discussed in brief below.
  3. 5.22 In Scotland, the Registrar-General may remit any fee or part of a fee where the payment of the fee is likely to cause hardship to the person by whom it is payable, or where the service in respect of which the fee is payable is performed for research purposes.17 The Registry will issue an extract of birth (excluding parentage details) free of charge at the time of registration. A full birth certificate costs £10.18
  4. 5.23 In New Zealand, the Registrar-General may dispense with the payment of all or any part of any fee payable under the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act 1995 (NZ).19 Alternatively, the Registry will accept a payment authorisation voucher provided by the New Zealand Ministry for Social Development for applications for birth certificates from eligible individuals.20
  5. 5.24 In the Republic of Ireland, if a person requires a birth certificate in order to claim a benefit paid by the Department of Social, Community & Family Affairs a reduced fee will be charged.21 The current standard fee for a birth certificate in the Republic of Ireland is 10.22 The amount of the reduced fee is not stated. 

Community responses

  1. 5.25 In the consultation paper, the Commission sought views from the community on:
  • whether it was appropriate to charge a fee for a birth certificate
  • whether the fee created a barrier to obtaining a birth certificate
  • what criteria should be applied to the grant of a waiver
  • whether a waiver should be available only on a case-by-case basis, or should also be available to classes of people
  • whether the criteria for a waiver should be explicitly stated in legislation or regulations; or contained in a publicly available policy document.
  1. 5.26 Many consultation participants felt strongly about the issue of fees. Some participants had an in-principle objection to the imposition of a fee. These participants felt that as a birth certificate is required by the state and other entities for many important interactions, no fee should be charged.23
  2. 5.27 Other participants felt that while the fee was not a large sum (and did not cause hardship to most applicants), it could be a barrier to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.24

Is it appropriate to charge for a birth certificate?

  1. 5.28 Many participants during consultation felt that it was inappropriate to charge for a birth certificate issued after the registration of a birth (a first-issue birth certificate).25 Some expressed surprise that they had been required to pay at all, assuming mistakenly, that a birth certificate would be provided at no cost for the first issue to a child.26
  2. 5.29 The Castan Centre recommended that:

A free standard birth certificate is issued for all Victorian children on registration of their birth.27

  1. 5.30 The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) also supported the provision of a birth certificate without a fee being charged,28 as did Liberty Victoria.29
  2. 5.31 Many consultation participants noted that a birth certificate is required for many legal and practical aspects of everyday life and maintained that it was therefore inappropriate to charge a fee.30
  3. 5.32 Most respondents who held this view also felt that birth certificates should be free for the first-issue birth certificate only and not subsequent certificates.31 For example, one group suggested that if people misplaced a certificate, then subsequent copies should attract a fee.32 Some participants felt that if a first-issue birth certificate were free, it would act as an incentive to registration.33 
  4. 5.33 In other consultations, participants suggested that receipt of a free, first-issue birth certificate could be conditional on an application being received within time, suggesting a 60-day34 or 30-day35 time limit, with late applications attracting a fee.36
  5. 5.34 Some consultation participants supported the Registry continuing to charge a fee for ‘fancy’ certificates, such as the commemorative birth certificates.37
  6. 5.35 A similar view was expressed by others who thought that continuing to charge a fee for services such as the commemorative birth certificate would reduce the loss in revenue to the Registry.38 Other consultation participants suggested that the fee for any replacement certificate and/or the commemorative certificate could be increased.39 Participants who supported this approach argued that this would allow the Registry to continue to derive revenue but remove barriers to individuals seeking basic identity documents such as a birth certificate.40
  7. 5.36 A contrasting view was provided by health professionals working in one inner city area. They advocated reducing the cost of a birth certificate or linking it to a concession, such as possession of a health care card or pensioner concession card, instead of providing it without cost. The rationale for this approach was that having some cost to the certificate would make it more meaningful to recipients and therefore they were more likely to value it and keep it safe.41
  8. 5.37 Service providers noted that people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds sometimes attribute great significance to the purchase of a commemorative certificate for their child, but may not have the financial means to make the purchase. The Commission heard examples of new parents who chose to forgo essential household items in order to pay for a commemorative certificate.42
  9. 5.38 One new mother from a CALD background told the Commission that her husband had insisted on purchasing a commemorative certificate. As a result, they had been unable to afford the fee at the time of their child’s birth and had delayed the registration until they were able to save the money.43 A late application for a commemorative certificate would also delay the issue of a standard birth certificate, which comes as a package with the purchase of the commemorative certificate [see also 4.111–4.120].

Is the current fee a barrier?

  1. 5.39 The consultation paper asked whether the current fee created a barrier to obtaining a birth certificate. During consultations, the Commission heard that the current fee can present a barrier for people from disadvantaged backgrounds,44 both in obtaining a birth certificate at the time of registration and later in life. In one consultation, justice service officers noted that it is common for people to raise the issue of cost when applying for a certificate.45
  2. 5.40 Consultation participants noted that having a new baby is expensive, especially if it involves the loss of, or reduction in, a wage.46 The month following the birth of a child, before Centrelink payments are received, can be very difficult.47 Some respondents commented that the fee meant that the application would sometimes be delayed until the funds could be found.48
  3. 5.41 One new parent told the Commission that she had left the registration and application for a birth certificate until the end of the 60-day limit in order to try to save money.49 Others, particularly younger participants, noted that because of the fee, they had registered the birth of their child but not applied for a birth certificate at the same time.50
  4. 5.42 The issue of late registration was noted by the Castan Centre:

Given that the provision of a certificate is perhaps the only obvious benefit of registration to a new parent, for people with limited means the cost of obtaining one may have an impact on the extent of compliance with the registration process itself…51

  1. 5.43 A number of participants expressed surprise at the cost, noting that $28.60 seemed a lot for ‘a piece of paper’.52
  2. 5.44 The Commission has considered the views expressed in submissions and during consultations on both the question of the appropriateness of fees and whether the current fee creates a barrier to registration. Before outlining its views on these matters the Commission will consider the issue of a fee exemption and/or waiver. The Commission will then outline its views on all issues considered.

Fee waivers and fee exemptions

  1. 5.45 As discussed in the above section, the Commission heard considerable evidence that the fee for a birth certificate is a barrier for some people, albeit a small number.
  2. 5.46 The Act allows the Registrar to remit the whole or part of a fee in appropriate cases.53 The consultation paper noted that while the Act allows the fee for a birth certificate to be waived at the discretion of the Registrar, this discretion is rarely exercised. The paper asked what criteria should be applied to the grant of a fee waiver.
  3. 5.47 The consultation paper posed this question broadly with application to people applying at the time of registration and to those who may apply at a later date.54
  4. 5.48 Consultations and submissions raised the issues of, and made suggestions in relation to, both fee waivers and fee exemptions. The criteria for both the grant of a fee waiver, and fee exemption will be discussed in the following section. 

Criteria for granting a fee waiver or exemption

  1. 5.49 Many consultation participants suggested that possession of a health care card or a pensioner concession card should be a sufficient criterion for receipt of a fee waiver.55
  2. 5.50 Alternatively,Liberty Victoria, the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) and Legal Aid NSW suggested that a waiver should apply for those experiencing financial hardship.56 LIV suggested, in line with their recommendations to the Victorian Attorney-General for reforms to the waiver of court and tribunal fee provisions,57 that in addition to a waiver for financial hardship, there should be specified fee exemption categories, for example, where a person holds a health care card, is in receipt of Youth Allowance or receiving a benefit under ABSTUDY.58
  3. 5.51 The North Melbourne Legal Service supported wide criteria for a waiver, stating that:

Pursuant to appropriate guidelines in certain cases, marginalised, disadvantaged and impoverished individuals should be eligible to have this fee waived.59

  1. 5.52 Consultation participants pointed out that both courts and utility providers regularly permit fee reductions or exemptions for concession card holders and that the same should apply for a birth certificate. The LIV noted that:

In many contexts, including court and tribunal fees, fee waiver is available in cases of financial hardship. Waiver of fees is important to ensure that socially and economically disadvantaged people are not precluded from accessing what they otherwise have a right to access as a citizen or resident.60

  1. 5.53 One group of consultation participants noted that those most in need of a fee waiver often lack the capacity or knowledge to apply. These participants felt that it would be fairer and more cost-effective to issue birth certificates without charge at the time of registration for disadvantaged groups.61

Alternatives for setting out fee waiver or exemption criteria

  1. 5.54 In the consultation paper the Commission asked whether criteria for a fee waiver should be explicitly stated in legislation or regulations, or set out in a publicly available policy document.

Waivers and exemptions stated in legislation or regulations

  1. 5.55 A range of agencies, including courts and tribunals, provide full or partial fee waivers with their source in legislation or regulations.
  2. 5.56 The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria provides a fee waiver within the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic)62 with exemptions and a fee schedule specified in the Magistrates’ Court (Fees) Regulations 2012 (Vic).63
  3. 5.57 Likewise the County Court of Victoria provides both a fee waiver and fee exemption in legislation.64 
  4. 5.58 Both the County and Magistrates’ Courts provide fee exemptions only in specific, employment-related cases (such as police officers acting in execution of their duties etc).65
  5. 5.59 Courts within the federal jurisdiction such as the High Court of Australia, the Federal Court, the Federal Magistrates’ Court and the Family Court of Australia provide fee exemptions on the basis of a class of people (such as those in possession of a health care card or pensioner concession card) within legislation.66
  6. 5.60 In response to the Commission’s consultation paper, the VEOHRC was supportive of a fee waiver set out in regulations or legislation, stating that:

Costs associated with certification should be minimised by a combination of legislation and policy to facilitate waivers. Legislation could provide for certain categories of automatic waiver, for example if a person is in possession of a health care card, and that the Registrar has a further discretion to waive fees in certain circumstances not covered by the legislation.67

  1. 5.61 The LIV was also supportive of this approach and recommended that:

The fee waiver power in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 should be elaborated in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Regulations 2008 to establish explicit criteria for access to a fee waiver.68

Waivers detailed in policy documents and forms

  1. 5.62 While legislation must provide the power to waive a fee, or the categories for a fee exemption, the details of the exercise of such a power or discretion can be more or less specific. In some instances the criteria will be outlined in the legislation and more detail on their interpretation will be provided in policy documents or applications forms. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) takes this approach.
  2. 5.63 As in the examples provided in the previous section, provision is made for a fee waiver in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic).69 The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Fees) Interim Regulations 2012 (Vic) set out the schedule of fees and the ability of the Principal Registrar to reduce fees in certain circumstances.70
  3. 5.64 The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act provides that:

the Principal Registrar may in any case–

a ) waive or;

b) if permitted by the regulations, reduce–

any fee payable under that Act, if he or she considers that the payment of the fee would cause the person responsible for its payment financial hardship or on any other ground prescribed in the regulations.71

  1. 5.65 Applicants who wish to apply for a full fee waiver or partial reduction may access the form online and present this to the Principal Registrar.72 
  2. 5.66 VCAT produces a policy document to provide further explanation of how the fee waiver may be exercised. This document divides those eligible for a waiver into two general categories: those who meet a criterion (such as concession card holder, a young person under 18 or a prisoner); and those who are low-income earners suffering financial hardship.73
  3. 5.67 VCAT retains discretion to grant or refuse an application for a fee waiver.74
  4. 5.68 There was support in submissions to the Commission for the Registry to produce a policy document (in addition to legislation, or of its own standing) outlining the criteria for a waiver of fees or fee reduction, in a similar manner to VCAT. The LIV supported a policy document being available on the Registry’s website75 and further suggested that:

A fee waiver application form should be developed and published on the Registry’s website. The form should be simple and easy to use and available in community languages.76

  1. 5.69 In addition to its support for setting out the criteria on which a waiver would be granted within legislation, VEOHRC supported criteria being outlined in a policy document. It noted that:

A policy could clarify: in what circumstances fees will be waived, for example if people are experiencing financial hardship…77

Commission’s view

  1. 5.70 Antecedent to the question of quantum of fee for issue of a standard birth certificate and the questions of remitting such fee for a class of people (exemption) or for individuals on a case-by-case basis (waiver), is the question whether as a matter of principle the state should issue standard birth certificates without cost. The Commission turns to this question.
  2. 5.71 There are good reasons of principle why the state should issue standard birth certificates without cost. Persons have identity by reason of their existence. However, formal proof of identity is provided by the state. As discussed in this report, formal proof of identity is important in itself, is important to the individual, and is important to the state. In a modern society it can be said that it is the duty of the state to provide that proof as part of its function of care and protection of its citizens. A number of submissions, referred to above,78 adopted this in-principle analysis. The Commission considers there is substance in this analysis.
  3. 5.72 However, the state government uses the fees received from the issue of standard and other birth certificates to fund the operations of the Registry, operations which are both essential to individuals and society and which involve significant administrative cost.
  4. 5.73 In 2011, there were 75,417 births notified in Victoria and by the middle of 2012 approximately 3.5 per cent remained unregistered.79 If it is assumed that 74,000 of these births would have been registered if first-issue birth certificates had been provided without charge, the loss of revenue would have been $2,116,400.
  5. 5.74 In government fiscal rectitude and prudence are important considerations. Rightly so. 
  6. 5.75 Further, in submissions and consultations there was no claim that the cost of a standard birth certificate was a significant burden on the majority of parents or had harmful consequences. There was, however, clear evidence that that cost was a financial burden for some vulnerable individuals and groups and was an impediment to those people and groups fully functioning in society.
  7. 5.76 Having carefully considered the issues and balancing the above considerations, the Commission has concluded that the appropriate course is to address the issues of vulnerable people and groups, rather than make holistic recommendations which would involve significant loss of revenue to government—revenue which is applied to the very matters of birth registrations and birth certificates. In that way, the disenfranchisement, disadvantage and sometimes the harm that is occurring in the community are specifically and directly addressed. The Commission’s conclusions are as follows.
  8. 5.77 The Commission is not convinced that the issues raised pose a significant barrier to the majority of the community. Timely birth registration occurs in the majority of cases. Therefore, the Commission supports the retention of a prescribed fee for the issue of a standard birth certificate.
  9. 5.78 The Commission, is however, persuaded by the evidence provided in submissions that the current fee can present a barrier for people from disadvantaged or low-income backgrounds. The Commission agrees with the Law Institute of Victoria that:

people who are not able to pay for a birth certificate should not be precluded from obtaining a birth certificate.80

  1. 5.79 The Commission acknowledges that for that section of the community the effect of not registering the birth or having a birth certificate can pose considerable problems later in life.
  2. 5.80 The Commission therefore agrees with the view expressed by the majority of participants that it would be appropriate to exempt those suffering financial hardship from paying the appropriate fee.
A fee exemption
  1. 5.81 The Commission considers that the definition of eligible beneficiary as provided in section 3 of the State Concessions Act 2004 (Vic)81 would be an appropriate basis for assessing financial need and for providing a fee exemption. A fee exemption, as supported in submissions, would be administratively simple and not require a case-by-case assessment of financial hardship.
  2. 5.82 An ‘eligible beneficiary’ as defined under the State Concessions Act means a person who during the relevant period:

(a) is an eligible recipient; or

(b) is the holder of a health care card issued under section 1061ZS of the Social Security Act 1991 of the Commonwealth other than-

(i) in respect of a child in foster care; or

(ii) a child in respect of whom a carer allowance under section 953 of that
Act is payable; or

(c) is the holder of a Gold Card, being a card issued to a person who is eligible for treatment under Part V of the Veterans’ Entitlement Act 1986 of the Commonwealth, other than a dependant (not including the widow or widower) of a veteran; or 

(d) belongs to a class or classes of person declared by Order under section 4(1) to be an eligible beneficiary.82

  1. 5.83 An ‘eligible recipient’ means a person who during the relevant period is:
  • an ‘eligible pensioner’ (a person who is the holder of a pensioner concession card or a Gold Card holder); or
  • the holder of a Gold Card [definition as per 5.82 above] with the addition of those who are defined as totally and permanently incapacitated veterans under that Act.83
  1. 5.84 Possession of a health care card or pensioner concession card were criteria strongly supported in submissions and consultations. Using the definition of ‘eligible beneficiary’ would also have the benefit of linking those entitled to a fee exemption to an existing Victorian statute that has the express object of enhancing ‘the quality of life of its more vulnerable members’.84
  2. 5.85 A fee exemption to eligible people would have the added benefit that it would replace the current two-stage process for birth registration and birth certificates. An eligible parent could simply provide supporting documentation, such as a copy of their health care card, with the birth registration statement and a standard birth certificate would be issued automatically. For applications made at a time other than registration, the birth certificate application form (online or otherwise) could explain how supporting documentation is to be provided to the Registry.
  3. 5.86 Moreover, the Commission is of the view that the Registrar should have the power to refuse an exemption where a birth certificate has previously been issued to an applicant on behalf of the child. This would limit the number of times that the exemption provision could be activated by an applicant in respect of a particular birth certificate and assist to maintain the integrity of the provision.
  4. 5.87 The Commission considers that a young person applying for a birth certificate who comes within the definition of an eligible beneficiary should be entitled to an exemption, even though his or her birth certificate may previously have been issued to a parent who was exempted from payment. The Commission’s recommendation for exemption provides for this situation.
  5. 5.88 The Commission is of the view that this approach more equitably balances the needs of the most disadvantaged groups in our community, on low or fixed incomes, with the need for financial rigour and prudence by government.
Retention of Registrar’s fee waiver power
  1. 5.89 The Commission agrees with submissions made by the VEOHRC and the LIV that a fee exemption be accompanied by the retention of the Registrar’s fee waiver power. This way the fee waiver could cover other appropriate cases such as those who are victims of natural disasters (as currently supported by the Registry), members of the Stolen Generations, young people who have recently left out-of-home care, former wards of state or people raised in institutional care.
  2. 5.90 If an applicant lost or misplaced a birth certificate issued under the fee exemption provision, then any application for a replacement could be considered on a case-by-case basis under the Registrar’s general discretion to waive fees. 
Cost
  1. 5.91 The Commission notes that its recommendations for statutory exemption and for retention of fee waiver have cost implications if implemented and therefore suggests that the government consider ways to offset these costs against other services and/or products offered by the Registry. For example, the Registrar could consider a modest increase in the scheduled fee for standard birth certificates or an offset in cost from revenue derived from other products and services such as commemorative certificates or both.
  2. 5.92 Victoria currently has one of the lowest fees for the issue of a standard birth certificate when compared with other states and territories (See Appendix E in the pdf version of this report). A modest increase, so long as it accurately reflects the cost of the service to provide the certificate, would be warranted in order to offset the cost of the proposed recommendations.85
  3. 5.93 The Commission considers that this approach—the introduction of a fee exemption and the retention of a fee waiver power—would help meet the needs of the most disadvantaged. This flexibility would be balanced against the continuing requirement of a relatively modest payment from the majority of the population for whom the fee does not appear to represent a barrier to birth registration or replacement of a birth certificate. 

Recommendations

  1. 13The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) should provide that an eligible beneficiary:

    Eligible beneficiary should have the same meaning as it has in section 3 of the State Concessions Act 1994 (Vic).

  2. 14 The Registrar’s power to grant a fee waiver in ‘appropriate cases’ should be retained, to deal with applicants who do not come within the definition of ‘eligible beneficiary’ but who have an appropriate reason for seeking a fee waiver.

    Guidelines should be developed setting out how the Registrar’s discretion to waive fees will be exercised. 

Awareness of fee waivers

  1. 5.94 During consultations the Commission heard that few participants knew of the existing fee waiver discretion contained within the Act.86 Those participants who were aware of the discretion noted that the criteria for applying the waiver were unclear.87
  2. 5.95 Justice service officers noted that clients attending justice service centres are often not aware of the discretion to waive fees.88 A number of participants also commented that as there is little or no publicly available information about the waiver, or how to access it, its usefulness is very limited.89
  3. 5.96 The Commission found that little information is available publicly about the ability of the Registrar to waive fees in appropriate circumstances. There was strong support during consultations and in submissions for more publicity about the existence of these mechanisms for fee relief and for developing more transparent criteria for waiving fees for applications for birth certificates.90 The North Melbourne Legal Service stated that:

There should be publicly available guidelines available to individuals to clearly describe what constitutes an ‘appropriate’ case for the purposes of this section.91

  1. 5.97 The VEOHRC stated that:

A public and objective set of criteria for discretion should be available and clearly communicated, to guide both the Registrar and general public about eligibility for fee waiver.92

  1. 5.98 This would be in accordance with the practice of VCAT, which produces a fee waiver guide, available online, that outlines what factors will be considered when an applicant seeks a fee waiver.93 The guide makes it clear to the public who is eligible to receive a waiver, as discussed in the previous section ‘Waivers detailed in policy documents and forms’.

Commission’s view

  1. 5.99 One of the objects of this review is to make the process accessible and transparent for the public. While there are several ways to do this, the Commission favours the approach taken by VCAT. The power of the Registrar to remit or waive a fee is stated in the Act, and the criteria upon which a fee will be waived are set out in publicly available guidelines.

Recommendation

  1. 15The guidelines outlining the criteria for the waiver of fees should:

Legislative change to underpin a waiver or exemption

  1. 5.100 The Act allows the Registrar to remit the whole, or part, of a fee in appropriate cases.94 The consultation paper asked whether a waiver should be possible only on a case-by-case basis (as is current practice) or whether the law should be changed to allow for classes of people to also qualify for a waiver.
  2. 5.101 The Commission has recommended the retention of the power to waive fees in appropriate cases. The Commission has also suggested that the guidelines underpinning the waiver should be developed and made publicly available.
  3. 5.102 The Registry has informed the Commission that it is unable to provide a fee waiver for a class of applicants, based on legal advice as to the interpretation of section 49 of the Act. Instead, the Registrar has discretion to apply a fee waiver only on a case-by-case basis.95
  4. 5.103 Despite the Registry’s inability to waive fees for a class of applicants, it has, from time to time, adopted a flexible approach with regard to fee waivers in the instance of a natural disaster as discussed earlier in this chapter. VEOHRC referred to an example of such special arrangements in its submission to the Commission:

In 2009, in response to the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires who had lost all their possessions, the Registrar pursued a flexible policy by creating a simplified form and waiving all fees. It must be acknowledged that an unprecedented natural disaster triggered the government’s swift response in this case, however a lack of legal personality is something that Aboriginal people are observed to often be experiencing indefinitely and in many cases, due to causes beyond their control.96

Commission’s view

  1. 5.104 The Commission understands that currently very few applications for the birth certificate fee to be waived are received or granted by the Registrar.
  2. 5.105 Being able to exempt a class of people would allow for an increase in the number of people able to benefit from a fee waiver without requiring the Registrar to consider a large number of additional individual cases. This would also formalise the existing practice of waivers granted to people affected by natural disasters, while leaving room for other classes of people, where deemed appropriate. The Registrar, for example, may wish to waive fees for other classes or groups of applications such as members of the Stolen Generations, young people who have recently left out-of-home care, former wards of state and individuals raised in institutional care.

Recommendation

  1. 16The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) should be amended to allow for the fee for a birth certificate to be waived in full for a class of people.

     

Deducting birth certificate fee from newborn payment/s

  1. 5.106 A proposal put forward to the Commission during consultation was that the fee for the birth certificate could be deducted from the first instalment of the baby bonus or paid parental leave.97 This proposal would apply only to eligible applicants and require the individual to provide consent to the Registry to seek reimbursement from Centrelink on their behalf.
  2. 5.107 This proposal would require cooperation between Centrelink and the Registry, as proposed and discussed in Chapter 3. A number of participants noted the difficulty in obtaining state and federal cooperation, but felt that this was a sensible approach as it was not a fee waiver, but a payment via other means.98

Commission’s view

  1. 5.108 The Commission acknowledges that a scheme that required the state and federal governments to coordinate payments or reimbursements for eligible persons may incur additional administration costs. This type of scheme would also require significant negotiation and agreement between all relevant state and federal agencies, not only Victoria. Therefore, on balance, the Commission does not see sufficient merit in this proposed arrangement at this time.

The Indigenous Access Fund

  1. 5.109 The Indigenous Access Fund (IAF) was established in 2010 to provide support for low-income Indigenous people to meet the cost of obtaining a life event certificate. The Registry and the Koori Justice Unit at the Department of Justice established the IAF, which is administered by the Registry. An application for access to the IAF can be made at the Registry or a justice service centre.
  2. 5.110 Single or multiple certificates may be applied for in the one application (for example, multiple birth, marriage and death certificates for family members or children). Applicants must:
  • fill in a birth certificate application form
  • complete a statutory declaration acknowledging their Indigeneity99
  • provide proof of low income, such as a health care card or pensioner concession card
  • provide certified copies of proof-of-identity documents.100
  1. 5.111 If a person does not have sufficient proof of identity, a proof of identity regional exception form may be filled in.101 The Commission understands that documents provided by Aboriginal cooperatives, such as a letter or statement on letterhead that the person is a known member of the local Indigenous community, are not considered sufficient proof of Indigeneity.
  2. 5.112 The IAF is not publicly advertised and relies on informal networks for awareness, although the Commission understands that justice service officers will draw attention to the IAF if they feel the person may be eligible. The Registry website does not include information about the existence of the IAF, or how to apply to the IAF for support with obtaining a life event certificate. The Registry has informed the Commission that it plans to launch a web page that includes information about the IAF as well as the Indigenous Access Team (to be discussed further in Chapter 6) in the near future.

Awareness of the Indigenous Access Fund

  1. 5.113 Awareness of the existence of the IAF was limited. The LIV noted that:

The Indigenous Access Fund is an important initiative. In 2009 it became apparent that many Indigenous people had not applied for a birth certificate because they are unable to pay the fee. The LIV is concerned about the lack of publicity about the Indigenous Access Fund and whether it is in practice providing assistance to eligible people.102

  1. 5.114 Further discussion of community views pertaining to the operation of the IAF is contained in Chapter 6.

Commission’s view

  1. 5.115 The Commission considers that since the IAF exists to assist Indigenous people pay the fees for life event certificates, it is essential that everyone who may qualify for assistance knows about the fund and understands how to apply to it.

Recommendation

  1. 17Information about the Indigenous Access Fund should be readily available to service providers and members of the public.

 

Method of payment for fee

  1. 5.116 The issue of fee payment methods was raised during consultations. At present the Registry accepts a cheque, money order or credit card for payments made via post. Cash is accepted at the Registry office and justice service centres.
  2. 5.117 One group commented that often people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have a cheque account or credit card103 and that often the same people live from benefit cheque to benefit cheque.104 It was noted that if these people are not close to a justice service centre or the Registry customer service centre, they will need to purchase a money order from a post office. Standard money orders cost $8.95,105 increasing the cost to the applicant of applying for a birth certificate to $42.00, including postage.
  3. 5.118 Participants suggested that other methods of payment could be considered such as BPAY,106 Paypal, or via Post Billpay through Australia Post.107 The ability to apply and pay for a life event certificate at selected Australia Post outlets has recently been introduced by the NSW Registry. This arrangement lets applicants pay via a range of options, including EFTPOS and cash.108

Commission’s view

  1. 5.119 The Commission notes the positive feedback received during consultation about the justice service centres and acknowledges that with time, the centres will be used increasingly by members of the community. However, the Commission is still concerned that for people in regional areas or those who are unaware of the local justice service centre, options for payment remain limited.
  2. 5.120 With this in mind, the Commission considers that the Registry could explore the introduction of other payment methods as part of its expansion into online service provision. The NSW Registry’s example of using Australia Post outlets is one option that could be explored by the Victorian Registry.

Recommendation

  1. 18The Registrar should explore the introduction of other payment methods for fees for birth certificates. 

 

Footnotes

Main menu

Back to top