Victorian Ombudsman says electric-car road-user charge should be refunded
The Victorian Ombudsman has called for electric and plug-in car owners affected by the State Government’s ‘road-user charge’ to be refunded – as the tax continues to face a challenge in the High Court.
The Victorian Ombudsman has slammed the state’s controversial ‘Zero and Low Emission Vehicle (ZLEV) road-user fee’ – a tax on plug-in hybrid and electric-car owners which is currently being challenged in the High Court – and called for motorists to be refunded.
When the road-user charge came into effect from 1 July 2021, owners of electric vehicles were charged 2.5 cents per kilometre – while those who owned plug-in hybrid cars (which can run on electric-only power for short distances) incurred a 2.0 cent per kilometre fee.
These charges have since risen to 2.8 cents and 2.3 cents per kilometre, respectively – or about 12 and 15 per cent, which is more than the official Consumer Price Index increase across the same period.
Following more than 180 complaints about the tax, the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, has criticised the Victorian Government for a lack of research before it introduced the charge.
Ms Glass has called for plug-in hybrid and electric-car owners to be repaid the money they have paid for the tax since it was implemented two years ago.
“We found an unreasonable lack of policy guidance to those administering the legislation, inflexible handling of complaints, and an unwillingness to exercise discretion,” Ms Glass said in a media statement.
“It is also wrong to charge penalties not provided for in legislation, and the money collected under this ‘penalty’ should be repaid.”
The Victorian Ombudsman also addressed the State Government’s system of forcing electrified car owners to self-declare their odometer readings, saying its policy was not lenient enough in special circumstances.
After a request is sent out by Victoria’s transport department, electrified car owners have 13 days to provide a photo of their odometer reading. If one isn’t provided, the car’s registration is suspended after 56 days, and then cancelled after 78 days.
As reported in March 2023, VicRoads had deregistered 243 vehicles since the controversial tax was introduced in July 2021.
According to the Victorian Ombudsman, one of the plug-in hybrid and electric-car owners had their vehicle’s registration cancelled as they were overseas and unable to provide a photo of the odometer reading.
The owner – and anyone else who falls foul of the law – is then charged the tax based on an ‘average travel’ calculation of vehicles in Victoria.
In some cases, this calculation has exceeded the lifetime travel of the vehicle in question, but VicRoads has failed to negotiate the figure – instead calling it a ‘penalty’ for lateness.
“As the Robodebt inquiry showed us, there are dangers in making assumptions and using average calculations to charge people,” Ms Glass added.
“Assumptions have been made about how people will use their electric vehicles, which plainly disadvantage people with older vehicles or those who have less access to charging stations.”
The road-user charge is also currently being challenged in the High Court by two Victorian motorists – with backing from the Federal Government – which some experts have called ‘the biggest constitutional fight in a quarter of a century’.
New South Wales intends to introduce its own road-user charge for plug-in hybrid and electric cars from 1 July 2027, though the increase to its fees will be pegged to inflation – rather than an arbitrary number, as the Victorian Government has done.
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