Yfoundations news, 24 Feb 2012- Last week at Yfoundations February Policy Forum there was a guest presentation by LegalAid on Work and Development Orders. Here is more information about the orders for those interested and the presentation slides.
"This WDO changed my life mate (laughs).
No seriously, it did…the WDO opened a door and it had a ripple effect.
I owe so much to it".
The story of the client who has accumulated consecutive fines with the SDRO, who is then hounded and further penalised, is a familiar one for youth workers.
Many young people would fall into a pattern of accumulating fines, reoffending, court appearances, loss of license and other associated legal issues. The system inadvertently punished those who couldn’t pay up, regardless of their circumstances.
The WDO scheme was established by the NSW Government as a trial in 2009 in response to this familiar story: the high levels of entrenched debt amongst disadvantaged people, particularly young people.
In July this year WDOs were made permanent. Legal Aid NSW and Aboriginal Legal Services NSW/ACT (ALS) also received funding to employ staff to assist clients and organisations to get involved with the Scheme.
A Work and Development Order (WDO) is an order made by the State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) that allows eligible young people or adults to reduce or eliminate fines debt by doing voluntary unpaid work, certain courses or treatment plans. An 'eligible person' is a person who is having difficulty paying their fines because they are homeless, suffering from economic hardship, mental illness, intellectual disability or cognitive impairment.
As a youth worker, you can help your client apply for a WDO.
If your client wishes to undertake voluntary unpaid work, participate in training or treatment as part of a WDO, they will need to be supervised by an 'approved organisation'. Some charities, health providers and training organisations have already registered to be approved organisations.
If it is not already registered, you could encourage your organisation to become an approved organisation. Otherwise you could suggest your client is supervised by another organisation in your region.
By participating in the WDO scheme, clients can reduce and erase debt whilst fulfilling a positive function: engaging in voluntary work within their community or undergoing drug, alcohol or financial counselling.
The feedback from clients who have participated has been very positive:
"The fine and debt and my criminal record made me feel like a failure… I never smiled for years mate. Now I can move on. I want to be in love- have a beautiful life. The WDO gives me a clean slate, the ability to be normal again. So can you tell them "thank you very much" from me? I can start again, no strings attached. This is the best opportunity I've got to be somebody without problems."
'Approved organisations' have also been positive about the WDO scheme. Many service providers felt as helpless as their clients in the face of exponential debt: they had few helpful options to offer clients with entrenched debt.
WDOs offer service providers a positive and effective solution for their eligible clients. Furthermore, the WDO scheme can provide excellent leverage for obtaining commitment to rehabilitative treatment programs from otherwise reluctant clients.
As one health care worker said:
WDOs are the most concrete and effective way of getting compliance with treatment that I have seen. There is nothing like it. Clients get quite excited about it. 
Legal Aid NSW will employ civil lawyers in Coffs Harbour, Orange, Wollongong and Liverpool to increase outreach services to clients with fine debt. These lawyers will be available to assist clients and organisations interested in WDOs.
Free legal advice on fines is available at your nearest Legal Aid NSW. For more details go to www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/wdo.
Work & Development Orders Presentation Slides, Yfoundations Feb Policy Forum [Adobe Acrobat PDF - 3.91 MB]