Court fines and financial penalties

Fines are the most common type of sentence for minor offences that are not serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence. All minor offences are deal with at the magistrates courts. Magistrates court fines are a priority debt because the court has powers to enforce the debt in many ways, including sending you to prison.
Financial penalties

A fine is the most common type of penalty for criminal offences. All but the most serious offences are disposed of in the magistrates court. See the English court system for more information about the various courts and their jurisdiction. In addition to fines, magistrates can also impose other penalties:

  • Victim surcharges: these are used to fund service for victims and witnesses and range from £20 to £120.
  • Compensation orders: these orders are intended for injured parties in a criminal case to get compensation without the need to sue in the county court. The are often made in cases of petty theft or criminal damage.
  • Costs orders: orders to pay the costs of the injured party in a criminal case.
  • Criminal courts charge. For offences committed on or after April 13 2015 the court will also order a convicted offender to pay a charge towards the court’s cots, ranging from £150 to £1,000.

You could be fined for:

  • Court-Gaveltraffic violations.
  • criminal offences such as theft, assault, criminal damage, etc.
  • non payment of penalty notices.
  • not having a TV license.
  • driving without motor insurance.
  • failing to provide the court with details about your financial situation when ordered to do so

See criminal offences for more information about the various types of offences.

Financial penalties take into account the personal circumstances of the offender and the court may require you to complete a means enquiry form.
Financial penalties are reduced if you plead guilty.
Payment of financial penalties

The court can order payment in the following ways:

  • immediate payment;
  • payment within a certain time; or
  • payment in installments.
Courts often ask offenders how much they can pay immediately and have the power to search people for money, although this power is rarely used.
Financial penalties should usually be payable within 12 months. The maximum perioud should not be more than two or three years.

When more than one financial penalty has to be paid, he court applies payments in the following order:

  1. compensation orders;
  2. costs;
  3. fines

Collection order

Once you have been fined, you will be issued with a collection order with full details of how the fine should be paid. The full amount may be payable within 10 days or you may be allowed to pay in installments.

The order will contain:

  • the amount due with a breakdown of the amount of fine, compensation and costs;
  • whether you are an existing defaulter, i.e. whether you have already defaulted on another financial penalty;
  • if an attachment of earnings or deduction from benefits order has been made;
  • the repayment terms that apply if the attachment of earnings or deduction from benefits order fails, known as the reserve terms;
  • the fines office that deals with the case; and
  • what happens if you default.

If you are an existing defaulter and have failed to satisfy the court there was a proper reason for defaulting, the court must make an attachment of earnings order or a deduction of benefits order. If you have satisfied the court that there was a valid reason for the default, the order can only be made with your consent, unless the penalty includes a compensation order.

If you want to avoid an order being made, you should try to bring your payments up to date or provide the court with a valid explanation for the reasons for defaulting as well as the potential consequences of an order being made, for example, that your job could be at risk if the order was made.

If you are not an existing defaulter, the order can ony be made with your consent unless the penalty includes a compensation order.
Financial penalties are recorded in the public Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines just like CCJs.
If you refuse to pay, you may be sent to prison if the court thinks you are willfully withholding the payment, so it’s important to explain your financial circumstances to the court and present an income and expenditure sheet and any other proof of your circumstances.

If you cannot afford to pay, you can apply to the court to:

  • pay the full amount at a later date, for example, after pay day
  • pay by installments.
  • pay smaller installments.
  • have the fine written off – this will only be agreed in exceptional circumstances

The court may agree to your application or may require you to appear in court at a means hearing. Be prepared to back up your application with proof of your circumstances.

If you miss a payment without making an application to the court, the court can order an attachment of earnings or deduction of benefits order, or you could be taken back to court.

You could be arrested and taken to court. If neither is applicable, the fines officer may consider alternatives such as bailiffs, a clamping order or enforcement in the High Court.

If the court thinks you are deliberately refusing to pay, you could be sent to prison. In this case, you should seek legal advice.
Enforcement of financial penalties

The court has powers to enforce the debt in various ways such as:

  • An attachment of earnings to have a set amount deducted from your wages, depending on your pay. See attachment of earnings.
  • Deductions from benefits such as JSA, ESA, Income Support or Pension Credit.
  • A clamping order if your vehicle’s value is enough to cover the fine plus costs.
  • An unpaid work order.
  • Sending bailiffs to your home to seize goods to be sold to pay the fine. Bailiffs collecting certain magistrates’ court fines, have the power to break into your home even if they have not been into your home before. See bailiffs.
  • You can be sent to prison, but only after all other avenues for recovery have failed. You will have to attend a means enquiry hearing, where you will have the chance to explain your financial circumstances.

Clamping orders

A clamping order will be made for a vehicle registered in your name to be immobilised in order to obtain payment of the financial penalty and the costs attached to the clamping. The order will only be made if:

  • they are satisfied that you have the means to pay the penalty; and
  • the value of your vehicle is likely to exceed the amount of the penalty plus the estimated costs of clamping and selling the vehicle.
You will be given at least 10 days warning before a clamping order is made so you will have the opportunity to either make payment or show that you haven’t got the means to pay and/or that your vehicle isn’t worth clamping if applicable.

Vehicles may be clamped at any public place or road or any private land to which access can be gained without opening or removing a door, gate or barrier. A vehicle cannot be clamped if:

  • it’s not registered in the debtor’s name;
  • it displays a current disabled badge or there are grounds to believe it’s used by a disabled person;
  • it’s used for police, ambulance or fire purposes; or
  • it displays a British Medical Association or other health emergency badge on it and it’s being used by a doctor on call.
  • The contractor and any operatives engaged in clamping should have suitable ID in a prominent position.
  • The office where payment of the fine and charges due can be made should be easily accessible from the place where the vehicle was clamped for at least two hours after the clamping.
  • Payments must be accepted by cash, cheque or credit card.
  • If a partial payment is made, it is first applied towards charges and the rest towards the penalty itself.
  • Once full payment has been made, the vehicle should be released within four hours if payment is made at the contractor’s office or the court or two hours if payment is made to a member of the contractor’s staff.
  • A vehicle must remained clamped for a maximum of 24 hours before being removed to secure premises for storage.
  • The contractor must notify the owner and fines officer of the location of the vehicle.

Sale of the vehicle

If the fine has not been paid in full after 10 working days the fines officer must apply to the court for an order to sell the vehicle. You will receive a copy of the application. The application will be deal with at a hearing ad the court will consider the circumstances of the case and whether the clamping order was reasonable and proportionate.

The court may:

  • decide to Order the vehicle to be released with or without liability for payment of the charges.
  • Make an order for sale.

When the vehicle is sold, any charges for clamping and storage are deducted from the net proceeds, then the fines officer will deduct the amount of the fine and send the client a cheque for the balance (if any) within 10 working days of the sale with a statement of account.

If the proceeds are not enough to cover the fine and charges, the charges are recovered first and the rest is applied towards the fine. The fines officer will then try to recover the outstanding amount.

Attachment of earnings orders

These are not made in the same way as those for county court judgments. Fixed deductions are made from your earnings as below.

Net earnings

Up to £220Up to £55Up to £80
£220.01 to £400£55.01 to £100£8.01 to £153%
£400.01 to £540£100.01 to £135£15.01 to £205%
£540.01 to £660£135.01 to £165£20.01 to £247%
£660.01 to £1,040£165.01 to £260£24.01 to £3812%
£1,040.01 to £1,480£260.01 to £370£38.01 to £5317%
Over £1,480Over £370Over £5317% of this threshold and 50% of the remainder

Attachment of earnings orders for fines take priority over existing orders for judgment debts, administration orders and DWP direct earnings deductions but not over orders for child support. They have equal priority with orders for council tax arrears.

If you have more than one fine, they can be collected using a consolidated order. Contact the fines officer to make arrangements.

If you leave your job, the fines officer will send you a payment notice telling you what to do to make the required payments.

Deductions from benefits

The court can apply to the DWP to deduct payments from the following benefits:

  • Jobseekers allowance;
  • Employment support allowance (ESA);
  • Income support;
  • Universal credit; or
  • Pension credit.

The maximum deduction is £5 a week. For Universal credit, 5% of your standard allowance for the relevant period up to a maximum of £108.35. Fines have low priority and deductions can only be made for one application at a time.

If you are experiencing hardship as a result of the deductions, you could write to the DWP explaining this and asking not to enforce the court’s application.

If you stop claiming benefits or the DWP cannot comply with the order, the fines officer will send you a payment notice telling you what to do to make the required payments.

High Court or county court enforcement

The fines officer can apply for an order that’s only available through the civil courts such as a third party debt order or a charging order.

Variations and set aside

Varying or setting aside financial penalties

The magistrates can vary or even rescind an order imposed by them if the penalty has been wrongly imposed or is too high. If you were not aware of the summons or the proceedings, you can make a statutory declaration to that effect to get the conviction rendered void and the penalty set aside, however, this means there will be a new hearing for the offence.

Varying a collection order

If there has been a change in your circumstances you can apply to the fines officer to vary the order. The fines officer will usually require a statement of means and it’s an offence not to provide one on request. There is no limit to the number of times that you can apply for a variation.

If you have defaulted on the terms of the order, any enforcement action can continue while the application is dealt with.

Appealing a decision

When applying to vary the terms of an order, your dealings will be with the fines officer rather than the magistrates themselves, however, it is possible to appeal against  fine officer’s decision to the magistrates court withing 10 working days. The magistrates may:

  • confirm the payment or reserve terms;
  • vary the payment or reserve terms;
  • confirm, quash or vary a further steps notice;
  • discharge the collection order and retain control of the collection and enforcement process.
The fines officer can also refer the matter back to the magistrates and they have the power to increase the fine by 50% if they are satisfied that the default is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect.

If the fines officer refers the matter, you will be summoned to attend a referral hearing. You must attend or the court can issue a warrant for your arrest to be brought before the court. If you are summoned, you should have a financial statement prepared to show in court.

Means enquiry and further action

Before certain types of enforcement can be taken, the court must hold a means enquiry hearing to look at your circumstances for defaulting. You will be required to complete a means enquiry form. It is advisable to prepare a full financial statement rather than just the court form, including an explanation of all expenditure, see statement of means.

Make sure you provide information about the reasons why you haven’t paid the financial penalty as well as your circumstances.

Following a means enquiry the court may:

  • Remit the fine. The fine gets cancelled. This can happen if you can demonstrate you are on benefits or on a low income and have serious debt problems, if your circumstances changed after the fine was imposed or if the guidelines for payment within one to three years are likely to be exceeded.
  • Fix a return date. Magistrates can order payment by a certain date or make an installment order and require you to appear in court if you have failed to make the required payments. You should ensure that the order is one that you can comply with.
  • Make a money payments supervision order. This means appointing someone to induce you to make the payment, usually a probation or fines officer.
  • Make and attendance centre order. This only applies to people under 25 if the court has an attendance centre available.
  • Make a payment work order. This allows you to pay a fine (but not costs or compensation) by doing unpaid work.
  • Order your imprisonment. This can only be done if a warrant of control has failed and the court is satisfied that you are deliberately refusing to pay or if the original offence was punishable with imprisonment. The minimum term is five days and the maximum 12 months.


Imprisonment should only be considered if the court can establish wilful refusal or culpable neglect, however, the court can often assume that if you haven’t paid is because you don’t want to. For that reason it’s important to provide a statement of means form and explain that it’s not possible to find the money to pay for the fines as well as all the other priorities. The court should consider all the other alternatives as mentioned above.

The prison term should be proportional to the financial penalty outstanding and the financial penalty and any associated costs are wiped out once the prison sentence is served.

It may be possible to get the court to make a suspended committal order where you will not be sent to prison if you keep to the terms of the order, for example, agreed repayments. In this case there must be another hearing before you can be sent to prison and remission can still be considered at this stage if you can show the court that your circumstances have changed or you just don’t have the means to pay.

Instead of a prison sentence, magistrates can order a short detention, for example, in the court building or at the police station, for the remainder of the day or overnight. In this case the financial penalty is also wiped out so it’s worth asking for this option to be considered if you are unable to pay.

You may qualify for Legal Aid to cover solicitors costs if you are facing imprisonment.
Compensation orders

Compensation orders are intended as a simple way for an injured party to get compensation without having to sue in the county court. They are often made in cases of criminal damage or petty theft. The money is collected by the court and paid to the victim.

Unlike fines, compensation orders cannot be remitted by the court so it’s important to ensure you have a clear statement of means with you when appearing in court if you are charged with an offence that could result in a compensation order. The court must consider your financial circumstances and other debts when making the order. See statement of means.

A compensation order can only be changed if:

  • You appeal against the conviction or the order. You will require legal representation and there are strict time limits to appeal.
  • Civil proceedings state that the actual loss was less than that stated in the order.
  • The order was made for stolen goods that were later recovered.
  • You have experienced an unexpected change in circumstances resulting in a substantial reduction of your financial means and this situation seems unlikely to change.
Court fines and other financial penalties cannot be included in formal debt solutions such as bankruptcy, debt relief orders or IVAs.
Always deal with priority debts first. If funds are limited, non-priority creditors can wait!
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