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City of Melbourne agrees to refund 'unfair' parking fines following Victorian Ombudsman's report

Hundreds of motorists unfairly fined in the Melbourne CBD due to a confusing parking app will be reimbursed.

The Victorian Ombudsman’s review into parking fines has found City of Melbourne Council took ‘an overly rigid approach’ towards fined motorists who confused the letter ‘O’ with the number ‘0’ when entering their details in the PayStay app.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass estimated in her report released on Wednesday that more than 1,200 motorists were affected by the PayStay mistake.

But a council spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia the number of unfairly fined motorists between July 2017 and October 2019 who made an honest mistake is closer to 450. 

At least 450 motorists will be reimbursed over 'unfair' fines issued by the City of Melbourne. Pictured is a motorist paying for parking in the Melbourne CBD

 At least 450 motorists will be reimbursed over ‘unfair’ fines issued by the City of Melbourne. Pictured is a motorist paying for parking in the Melbourne CBD

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp admitted the Ombudsman’s report tabled to Victorian state parliament this week made for ‘shocking’ reading and assured affected motorists would be reimbursed.

‘The report highlights that we need more fairness and common sense in our systems to be able to deal with matters like this,’ she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

Ombudsman Glass said the council’s lack of discretion to allow common sense judgments was both unfair and wrong.

‘They also knew the number 0 and letter O were virtually indistinguishable on registration plates, and drivers would not be aware they had made an error,’ her report states.

‘These actions were apparently driven by an entrenched, overzealous attitude of some in senior management in the parking branch, a mindset that the customer is usually wrong and drivers must be punished for their infractions, no matter how small the offence or how great the mitigation.’

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp (pictured) said the Ombudsman's review into unfair parking fines tabled in Victorian Parliament on Wednesday made for 'shocking' reading

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp (pictured) said the Ombudsman’s review into unfair parking fines tabled in Victorian Parliament on Wednesday made for ‘shocking’ reading

Chief executive Justin Hanney said the council ‘fully accepts’ Ombudsman Glass’ findings and that 450 drivers will be fully reimbursed and receive a letter of apology.

‘I welcome the Ombudsman acknowledging that revenue-raising was not a motivating factor for any of our infringement review decisions,’ Mr Hanney said in a statement to Daily Mail Australia.

‘Parking infringement processes need to be fair and reasonable, and in this instance, they were not.

‘I have already put measures in place to support our infringement review team in exercising discretion where appropriate to avoid these issues in the future.’

Motorists were unfairly fined while parked in the CBD due to a confusing app (stock image)

Motorists were unfairly fined while parked in the CBD due to a confusing app (stock image)

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

It has also agreed to review every parking fine complaint it receives in future.

‘If drivers believe that they have been impacted by the number ‘zero’ with the letter ‘O’ or a number ‘one’ with the letter ‘I’ issue, they should contact the City of Melbourne so the matter can be fully considered, Mr Hanney added.

Ms Glass welcomed the council’s acceptance of her findings and agreement to make amendments.

‘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. 

Around 11 million vehicles park in the Melbourne CBD each year, according to the council.

The council collected  $41.2 million in parking fines in the 2019-20, according to its 2019-20 budget.

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