The New South Wales Government will be forced to correct and send 44,000 letters to returning travelers demanding payment for hotel quarantine due to a fundamental error explaining its legislative power to recover debts.
The state government has issued more than 134,800 invoices charging incoming travelers thousands of dollars for hotel quarantine since the pandemic began.
Where invoices are not paid, Revenue NSW issues recovery orders that require payment and warns recipients that they have the power to take money from salaries or a bank, seize property or issue a land tax.
But the debt collection letters contain a small but potentially consequential error.
Referring to its power to recover debts, the state government mentions a non-existent piece of legislation and says that its powers are contained in the State Debt Recovery Act 2013. The correct law is the State Debt Recovery Act 2018.
When the Guardian approached Revenue NSW, it said it was “now aware of the wrong reference”.
It said more than 44,300 recovery orders had been issued with the wrong reference.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Revenue NSW will issue amended debt recovery orders to all affected persons, but this will not change the requirement that each invoice be paid,” a spokesman said.
One recipient, who asked not to be identified, told the Guardian that they had legal advice suggesting that it could not be enforced by basing a recovery order on a non-existent law.
“I have made NSW Revenue aware of this on five different occasions [emails can be provided] and they have simply ignored it and continued to send recovery orders, ”he said.
But Revenue NSW denied that the error had any bearing on the enforcement of the orders.
“This error has no bearing on the enforceability of these orders if they were challenged in court.”
“Sections 38 and 40 of the State Debt Recovery Act 2018 outline what should be in a debt collection order that does not include the authority under which the debt collection order is issued.”
NSW began charging returning travelers for hotel quarantine in mid-2020, saying they had spent $ 65 million by that time on returning travelers.
“Australian residents have been given plenty of time to return home – and we feel it is only fair that they cover some of the cost of their hotel stays,” said Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian.
Monday ended the hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated Australian citizens returning home.
Unvaccinated Australians will continue to have to be quarantined and comply with a ceiling on arrivals.
The state is also testing a home quarantine program to allow returning travelers to avoid hotels and the associated costs.
The pilot can become permanent. It relies on an app that uses geolocation and face recognition technology to make sure individuals are at the right address.
The use of such technology has given rise to significant concerns about privacy and civil liberties.