Court fines can be given for a range of minor crimes and “low level” offences. The aim of a fine is to punish an offender financially by limiting their disposable income, rather than by restricting their freedom or forcing them to give back to the community.
If a crime is not thought to merit a community or prison sentence then a fine can be applied, but in some instances a fine might be given in addition to another sentence.
What offences are punished with court fines?
Fineable offences include speeding, minor theft, not holding a valid TV licence (when one is required). and drunk and disorderly behaviour.
How is the amount of a court fine calculated?
A court will decide the amount an offender should pay, taking into account both the nature and seriousness of their offence, and the offender's ability to pay a fine, unless it's a fixed penalty. If an offender is on benefits then they are likely to be fined at a reduced rate.
The offender is required to fill in a 'means form' prior to receiving their fine, so that the court to take their financial situation into account when deciding the amount. Means forms will ask for information about income, savings and outgoings.
Where a fine is given, if the offender's crime caused harm to a victim, they may also be liable to make a compensation payment. It is also common for an offender to be required to make a payment toward the costs of the hearing. A "victims' surcharge" of £15 may also be added to the total amount an offender is required to pay. The victims' surcharge has been in force since April 2007, and is paid into a fund designed to improve services for victims of crime, not to a specific victim in any particular case.
Court fine notices
An offender who has had a fine issued against them will be provided with a notice informing them of the amount they are required to pay, how to pay it and the date it will need to be paid by. Fines can be paid online or over the phone by credit/debit card. Those who can't pay a fine are required to contact the court to say why and to provide evidence of their financial circumstances. If you can't pay a fine immediately then you have the option to ask if you can pay in instalments, but the court will have the final word on whether you are allowed to do this or not.
Unpaid court fines
Unpaid fines may be enforced in other ways if the offender fails to pay at the appointed time. This could mean further court hearings, clamping or selling an offender's car, taking money from an offender's benefits or wages or sending bailiffs to the offender's home to seize their possessions. In extreme cases of non-payment, a prison sentence might be imposed instead. If you have unspent criminal convictions, it is quite likely that your problems will not end at the same time as your sentence.
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