A number of infractions in the United Kingdom may cause the court to order a fine to be paid as a penalty. Some common offenses that draw fines are parking or speeding violations, lack of a license for any licensed activity, and others. When receiving a court fine, it is absolutely vital that you do not file it away and treat it as any other type of debt. If a magistrates’ court fine remains unpaid for too long, penalties increase rapidly, up to and including being sent to prison.
When a fine amount is being initially decided by the court, your financial position is always taken into consideration for both the total amount and the installment payments (if any) allowed for the payment. For this reason, it is vital that you provide accurate information regarding income and expenditures when asked by the court: if it is shown you knowingly provided false information, yet another fine is added to the one already being considered. Depending on the circumstances, the court may decide to garnish your wages or benefits either at the outset of the fine, or after a period of neglecting payment.
If you feel you cannot pay the fine the court has set out once a decision is made, or if your financial situation changes sufficiently to impact your ability to pay the fine, it is vital that the court be contacted with that information as soon as possible. If your assertions are found to have merit, the amount of the fine may be reduced, or in some circumstances, even waived altogether. When attending a court hearing regarding the amount of a fine, be sure to bring along a copy of your personal budget to demonstrate your calculations to the court.
If the fine is not paid, and you do not contact the court notifying of them of nonpayment with sufficient reason for that nonpayment, the court may elect to take one or more of several actions. Most often, a collection order is made, allowing a fines officer employed by the court to examine and make special provisions with your case. As mentioned, an attachment of earnings order may be issued allowing the court to directly deduct a portion of your wages or other debt due, essentially forcing you to make payments without ever seeing your own income.
If you receive Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit, or Jobseeker’s Allowance compensation, up to £5 per week can be deducted from those amounts, similar to wage garnishment. As with standard earnings attachment, this order can be made either at the determining of the fine or as a result of late or inadequate payment.
If you have a vehicle registered in your name, the court has the authority to place a clamp on it and tow it away. If they do so, you will be responsible for the initial fee, negligence of which caused the vehicle to be clamped in the first place, as well as a separate penalty to recover the car. Only once you have paid the recovery fee can you apply to have this fee refunded by protesting the penalty in court (in which case you will be unlikely to win assuming you were in fact late in payment on the initial fine).
At the court’s discretion, you may be ordered to community service or some other unpaid work in lieu of the unpaid fine. The amount of work to be done depends on the size of the unpaid penalty.
If the court believes you have deliberately refused to pay the fine despite having the ability to do so, the amount of the fine may be increased by up to 50%. The court may also report the fine in a register considered by creditors, impacting your future ability to receive credit and increasing the interest rate on the loan when credit is granted.
In extreme circumstances, a private bailiff may be employed by the court to seize and sell your own private goods. A bailiff collecting a magistrates’ court fine is imbued with the authority to break into your home, residence, vehicle, or other area where you keep personal belongings, seize goods, and sell them toward the repayment of the fine. If your car is located nearby, they also have the authority to seize that. There are few limitations of a private bailiff’s powers in this situation: one of the few is that the bailiff should not seize a vehicle required to commute to work or for your business. Basic household necessities and clothing should also not be touched. If a private bailiff has been assigned to your case, you no longer make arrangements with the court to pay the fine: instead, you should contact the bailiffs directly. The court will not accept any payments from you.
In the direst of situations, nonpayment of a magistrates’ fine can result in you being sent to prison. There are several prerequisites for this course of action to be followed through on. You will be summoned to a court hearing, wherein you will present a copy of your personal budget and attempt to explain why payments have not been made in a timely fashion. You should also suggest a new payment installment plan to the court – one made with obvious intentions to be kept. If the court agrees, the arrest warrant will be suspended pending proper and timely payments. The court should not send anyone to prison if due to circumstances they are truly unable to pay the fine. This measure is only taken if it is believed the defendant willfully refused or neglected to pay when they had a clear ability to do so.
In all cases regarding fines, attend all court hearings and keep in contact with the court if there is any change to your situation that would necessitate a changing of schedule. Often a court will simply allow a single missed payment as long as notification was given and a reason offered. Do not agree to any plans that you cannot foresee keeping: if the initial payment plan by the court is too restrictive, request a more lenient payment plan. If you cannot make a full payment, try to pay what you are able. The court will usually respond well to those it deems to be acting in good faith. In very rare circumstances, it is possible that the court will waive the fine altogether.