Magistrates Court Fines
Fines are categorised as being a priority debt because the Magistrates’ Court has the power to send you to prison for non-payment.
Examples of a fine include;
- Committing a driving offence
- Non payment of a fixed penalty notice
- Having a television without a licence
There are various other criminal offences that may incur a fine too. The court can also order you, to pay compensation to any injured party or victim and award costs against you.
The fine can be set at an initial hearing or as a result of a fixed penalty notice (as the level of the fine is set automatically).
It is important to provide the court with as much information about your circumstances as possible. If you do not give the court details of your income and outgoings when ordered to do so they can impose a further fine. However it is beneficial to supply these details as it is likely to affect the level of the fine you are ordered to pay and also as to whether you are given time to pay by in instalments.
Collection of fines
Once you have been fined, the court will make a ‘collection order’. This will give you instructions detailing how the fine should be paid. The notice of the fine and the payment rate (if one has been made) will be posted to you.
If you are in agreement, then an attachment of earnings order or a deduction from benefits order can be made immediately.
When you have another fine outstanding and you have not made payments as set out in the collection order for that fine, you will be treated as an existing defaulter. If you are an ‘existing defaulter', then the court must make an attachment of earnings order or deduction from benefits order.
Powers of the court
The Magistrates’ Court has the power to search you and remove all the money you have with you in order to pay the fine. The court also has the power to detain you in the court for the rest of the day, or order you to do unpaid work in some circumstances (with your agreement).
Collection order details
The payments you have been asked to make will be set out on the collection order. It will either ask you to make payment in full within ten days or will set out the payments in instalments. It will also give details of:
- How much the fine is
- If there are any costs or if a compensation order has been made
- If you will be treated as an ‘existing defaulter’
- Tell you if the court has made an attachment of earnings order or deduction from benefits order
- Details of the payment terms of the fine
- How the amount owed may increase to cover the costs for collecting the debt; and
- Name the fines office the order is allocated to
Paying your court fine
Whatever your situation, at some point you will be required to pay your court fine. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Use the online payment service: https://courtfines.justice.gov.uk/courtfines/pages/preselect.do
- Request a payment card be posted to you
- Request a direct debit mandate
- Set up a standing order with the payment details
- Make a bank transfer or fast payment
- Pay by phone - T: 0300 790 9901 (in England) or T: 0300 790 9980 (in Wales)
If you cannot afford to pay your Magistrates’ Court fine, you can apply to the fines officer for:
- Additional time to pay the fine
- A request to pay by instalments; or
- An amendment of the instalments you have been ordered to pay
The collection order should tell you who to contact if you need to discuss your fine and payments. If you are unsure you can ask the court who issued the fine. At some courts the fines officer is located there. For others they use a regional fines enforcement team. If the fines officer or team refuses your request, you can appeal to the magistrates’ court within ten days. This is likely to result in a hearing.
If you miss payments and you have not contacted the fines officer to reduce your payments, the fines officer must make an attachment of earnings order or a deduction from benefits order. If neither orders are possible, then the fines officer may take ‘further steps’.
Attachment of earnings order
The amount the court can order you to pay out of your earnings is calculated on a sliding scale, based on your take home pay. An attachment of earnings order will not be made if you are either self-employed or a director of a limited company (and you do not take a regular salary). It is also possible to have more than one fine paid through a consolidated attachment of earnings order.
Deductions of benefits order
If you are in receipt of Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Universal Credit, the court can order weekly direct deductions to be taken from your benefit in order to pay the fine.
The current deduction rates is £5 per week, except if you are claiming Universal Credit, then the deduction can be up to £25 each week.
If you are receiving contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or contributory Employment and Support Allowance, the deduction can be up to 40%.
If the deduction from your benefit will cause hardship, you have ten days to appeal against the decision to the Magistrates’ Court.
The fines officer has the power to refer your case back to court for a hearing if you have defaulted on the payments. Alternatively they may send you a notice telling you what steps they intend to take next. Examples of further steps they can order are:
- Register the debt in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines*
- Make a clamping order; or
- They may apply for the fine to be enforced in the County Court or High Court
*The fines officer can register the fine in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. This could affect your ability to obtain credit. The information will usually remain on the register for five years. This information is not currently passed on to credit reference agencies, but may change in the future.
A clamping order will be made if the fines officer concludes you:
- Are able to pay the fine imposed; and
- The total value of your vehicle is enough to cover the fine plus the costs of clamping and sale
The court must send you a notice of the clamping order and also the date by which you should pay the amount owed. A private clamping company will be asked to carry out the order if you have not paid by the date given.
If your vehicle is clamped, you can have your vehicle released by paying the clamping charge and the outstanding fine in full.
The vehicle can be removed after 24 hours if the payment is not made. Ten days after the vehicle is clamped the fines officer can ask the magistrate for a further order to sell the car.
You should be informed of the hearing, which must be at least 21 days from when the vehicle was clamped. It is very important that you attend the hearing.
The vehicle cannot be sold less than one month from the date the vehicle was clamped.
County or High Court enforcement
If the fines officer decides you are able to afford to pay in one lump sum and you have not, they can apply to the County Court or High Court for a third party debt order, or a charging order, to be made against you.
Change in circumstances
Sometimes situations arise where you can no longer afford to pay the amounts ordered, for example a drop in income, multiple debts, a relationship breakdown, a new baby or long term illness.
Contact your fines officer or team to explain your change in circumstances and make an offer of repayment (see unaffordability above). You should also include a copy of your updated personal budget.
If the officer or team has enough details they may accept your offer without a hearing.
If your request is refused, you have the opportunity to appeal against the decision to the magistrates’ court within ten days.
Magistrates Court hearing
If you are required to attend the court, you will be sent a ‘default summons’ informing you of the date of the hearing. This is referred to as a means enquiry hearing.
It is very important that you attend. If you don't, the court has the power to issue:
- A warrant with bail (the appointed private bailiff firm will give you another court hearing date)
- A warrant without bail (the appointed private bailiff firm could arrest you and bring you before the court); or
- A committal warrant to send you to prison (where there is a suspended sentence on the fine).
Private bailiffs are usually instructed to enforce most warrants, including arrest warrants and warrants of committal. These activities are no longer carried out by the police. Therefore a private bailiff may visit you, to try to enforce payment by taking your goods, or to arrest you to go to a court hearing.
At the hearing the court will ask you for details of your income, expenditure and any other debts you may have. You should take along information about your income and outgoings (your budget sheet) and evidence in support, for example pay slips, a letter from your employer, or a letter from the benefits office.
The options available to the court are:
- Allow more time to pay
- Search you and remove from you all the money you have to pay the fine
- Order someone, for example a probation officer, to supervise your payments. This is called a ‘money payment supervision order’
- Make an attachment of earnings order
- Make a deduction from benefits order
- Apply for the fine to be enforced in the County Court or High Court
- Issue a warrant so that bailiffs can be appointed to take control of your goods
- Order you to be detained in the court for the rest of the day. This would ‘write off’ the fine
- Increase the level of the fine by 50%. If the court concludes you have not paid due to ‘wilful refusal or culpable neglect'
- Make a clamping order
- Register the fine
- Make an unpaid work order*
- Consider committal to prison
*An unpaid work order will only be made when it is suitable to do so. This option may be worth considering if the alternative is to be sent to prison.
Remitting the fine
This means the court can write off all, or part, of your fine where you have had a change in your circumstances or your circumstances have gotten worse since the fine was set. They could also remit the fine if the court did not have full details of your income, expenditure and debts when the fine was originally decided. This is unlikely due to the other options the court has. The court is unable to write off compensation orders or costs.
The court can order committal to prison, but only after a means enquiry hearing which you must attend. You cannot be sent to prison without at least one hearing where you have the opportunity to explain your financial circumstances and situation. The court must have tried all other options of enforcing the fine before they resort to this.
If you do not attend the hearing, the prison sentence will become active. This means that a private bailiff can be instructed to arrest you and take you into custody.
The court can give you a suspended prison sentence or send you to prison straight away. However they must first establish the following:
- Wilful refusal (the court thinks you have deliberately refused to pay); or
- Culpable neglect (you have been careless or thoughtless in not paying)
It is very important that if the court orders a suspended prison sentence or a ‘suspended committal order’, it is essential that you keep up with the repayments.
Serving a sentence
If you are currently serving a sentence in prison, you can ask the court to ‘lodge’ (link) your fine to your sentence. This has the effect of clearing the fine in full. You can obtain a form to do this from the prison staff.
Alternatively a member of your family, a friend or an advice agency could contact the court on your behalf. They should ask for your fine to be lodged to your sentence and give the court details of your prison, your prison number and the expected date of your release.
If you have not taken steps to deal with your fine, but you have served your sentence recently, you can still ask for your fine to be remitted (written off). In this situation you should take your release papers to the Magistrates’ Court. Ask the fines officer to show your release papers to the magistrates and request they remit your fine.