In New South Wales, pension concession card holders who receive free vehicle registration may now also be eligible for automatic registration renewal. Unfortunately, while this sounds great in theory, if the process is not done correctly, you could be caught out with an unregistered car and a fine from the police.

This is something that we are seeing quite often with our older client base, and consequently is something we refer to as "the pensioner trap".

Criteria for eligibility for automatic vehicle registration

There are certain criteria that must be met if you are to be eligible for automatic registration. This includes holding a current pension concession card at the time of registration renewal, receiving free registration and having no restrictions on your vehicle or drivers licence.

If you are eligible and your registration renewal notice says, "inspection required", you must visit your mechanic. Once your vehicle has passed the safety inspection, your mechanic notifies Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) electronically.

Compulsory third party (CTP) insurance needs to be renewed in time

You also need to ensure you have a current compulsory third party insurance policy. CTP insurance must be purchased eight days before your registration expires.

Once it is renewed, your insurer will also notify RMS electronically. If you have not purchased your CTP insurance in time, the automatic renewal process may not work, as RMS will not be notified in time.

When RMS has been notified of both the safety inspection (if it was required) and the CTP insurance, it will then check your pensioner status.

What happens if you don't own a computer or a mobile phone?

If you have an online account, you will receive an email or text message letting you know when the registration is renewed, once RMS approves the registration. Otherwise, you will only receive a notification if your vehicle registration renewal has failed.

It is in this step that we see a lot of pensioners encountering problems, as they may not be computer or mobile phone literate, or even own such a device, to receive confirmation of whether their vehicle registration was successful.

It was all much simpler for pensioners previously, as everyone received a sticker that went on their car to indicate that it was registered and when it would expire. However, these days, when your car is registered, you no longer receive the sticker, which can make it difficult for some people to confirm or understand whether their car is actually registered. (Please see our earlier article Rego stickers, ANPR and NSW government revenue – too good an opportunity to miss.)

Being fined even if your CTP insurance is paid up and your vehicle has been inspected

We have encountered clients who have paid their insurance and had their car inspected, but for whatever reason, RMS was not notified. As a result, one of our clients was recently caught driving an unregistered car by the police and issued a fine, as well as receiving a parking ticket, as she was forced to leave the car immediately.

We consequently recommend that pensioners who are not familiar with computers and are unable to check their vehicle registration online, should still go in to see the registry or Service NSW centre.

Although you will have nothing to pay if you are eligible for the free registration, you can take your documents and receipts in as proof of having obtained them and ensure the registration is complete, so that you do not risk incurring a fine for driving an unregistered vehicle.

John Gooley
Criminal law
Stacks Collins Thompson

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.