What happens if I don’t pay or refuse to pay a court fine?
How is the amount of a fine decided?
Up until March 2015 the maximum fine that the judge of a Magistrates’ Court was allowed to give was £5,000. That ceiling has since been removed allowing, in most cases, the fine to be of an unlimited sum.
The amount is determined by various Magistrates’ Court rules; your financial status has an impact on the figure as does the type of offence for which you are convicted.
The penalty element of the fine (not the court costs or compensation elements) will even be reduced in light of a guilty plea but is itself determined by when the offender admits their guilt. For instance, if they admitted guilt at their earliest opportunity following the accusation the penalty may be reduced by one third.
Your ability to pay
Along with a summons ordering you to attend a hearing you will receive a Means Enquiry Form (MC100). You’re legally obliged to complete this and must present it to the Court in order for the Court to measure its fine accordingly.
After all, levying a large fine against someone on a low income will not benefit anyone and will only lead to an increase in unpaid court fines.
The nature and seriousness of the offence
The Court first uses statutory guidelines to work out what level of fine is appropriate for the crime. The Court will consider:
- Which sentencing thresholds have been crossed
- The offender’s culpability in committing the offence
- The effect of aggravating and mitigating factors
- A reduction of the sentence for a guilty plea
- The need for ancillary orders, including compensation
(Sentencing Council, 2017)
After the trial
After you have been sentenced and your trial is closed the Court will send to you a copy of something called a ‘collection order’. This order is discussed during the trial as well and outlines what happens next. In short, the process following the hearing is as follows:
- The collection order is sent to you after the case is closed
- You are offered the chance to pay in instalments or you may be ordered to pay an amount within 10 days. The order will also include details of how to pay.
If, after your trial, you realise you can’t pay your fine either by the arranged instalments or in full you must contact the sentencing Court’s fines officer ASAP. In some places the fines officer works independently of the Court House but in either case you will find their contact details on your collection order.
You will be asked to explain why you can’t pay the amount set by the Court and if necessary your circumstances will be re-assessed. But if the fines officer doesn’t consider there to be sufficient reason for you to renege on your payments they will refuse your request for a review.
You can appeal the decision of the fines officer using the Magistrates’ Court rules
with the help of our team of solicitors at Leslie Franks.
If you don’t pay your fine on time for whatever reason, you will be considered in default and the Court will send a Further Steps Notice. This Notice demands you bring your account up to date within a set number of days. It will also ask you to make contact to explain why you have a missed court fine payment.
Unpaid court fines warrant
If you still don’t make contact, a Distress Warrant will be issued which is a way for the judge to enforce the payment of a fine. This issue results in one or more of the following:
- An enforcement order to take money directly from your wages or benefits
- The issue of a Warrant of Control to an out-sourced bailiff company
- The registration of the fine (adding the fine to your credit history for five years)
- An order to clamp your vehicle with a view to the court selling it
The Court will use its powers to punish you further for the unpaid court fine, especially if it hasn’t heard from you. In the most serious cases of non-payment and after every avenue is exhausted a judge can send you to prison. However, this will come after at least one further hearing when you will be given an opportunity to more fully explain your reasons.
What if I can’t afford to pay?
In order to make a case for rearranging a payment plan to suit your circumstances you will need to show evidence of your income and outgoings, and evidence of how the court’s fine has left you with little money for other priority debts.
It is best to try to convince the judge during the trial that you have a genuine reason for being unable to pay, but after the trial is ended your claim of unforeseen hardship can be helped along by the mention of one of the following:
- The breakdown of a relationship
- The death of a close relative
- The birth of your child
- Serious illness
- Other reasons for a drop in income
What if I refuse to pay?
If you consider the fine to be unlawful or the case against you to be flawed, you should dispute the case in accordance with the Magistrates’ Court rules.
For this you will require the help of Leslie Franks…our helpline is open 24 hours a day: 0800 6127 128.
If you’ve received a court summons for unpaid Court fine or you cannot afford to pay, contact us immediately. Being a highly successful company of criminal defence solicitors, we are hot-wired to resolve such situations. Our advice is free and impartial and if you so wish you can be represented in court by one of our fully-qualified solicitors.
Our services to you include:
- Presenting a court case with a view to cancelling a fine
- Organising and presenting a budget to the court
- Making a plea for a fine to be suspended
- Defending the non-payment of a fine