Court fines

A fine is the most common form of punishment for an offence given by the criminal courts. The judge will decide how much the fine is and any other costs you must pay including compensation to the victim of your crime.You must pay the fine by a certain date.

Getting a court fine for an offence

If your punishment for an offence is a court fine, the judge will decide:

  • how much the fine is for the offence
  • the offender levy
  • any other costs you should pay, such as compensation to the victim

The total you owe is your financial penalty.  The judge will consider your financial circumstances when setting your fine and the time you have to pay the fine. 

Fine notices and collection orders

The judge will also make a collection order, unless they decide this isn't suitable.  The collection order delegates the collection and enforcement to a centralised Fine Collection and Enforcement Service if the financial penalty remains unpaid after the time set by the judge.

The day after the court gives you a fine, you will get a fine notice and collection order setting out:

  • how much you have to pay
  • how long you’ve been given to pay the fine
  • how to pay
  • who to contact if you’re  having difficulty paying the fine
  • what will happen if you don’t pay the financial penalty

How to pay a court fine

There are different ways to pay your financial penalty.  You can pay:

You need your case reference number to pay. When paying by cheque, write your case reference number and name on the back of the cheque.  If you want a receipt, enclose a self-addressed envelope. 

Help paying a court fine

If you’re finding it difficult to pay your financial penalty, contact the Fine Collection and Enforcement Service.  

Fine Collection and Enforcement Service

If you received a collection order but didn't pay your financial penalty on time, your case will go to the NI Courts and Tribunals Service Fine Collection and Enforcement Service. A collection officer will explain payment methods. They're responsible for collecting unpaid fines.

The collection officer will send you a text, if they have your mobile number, reminding you to pay your financial penalty within 10 days. 

They'll also send you a reminder letter and a means enquiry form by post.  If you can’t pay your fine, you should fill in the means enquiry form and return it to the collection officer within 10 days.  The personal and financial information you put in the form will help the collection officer decide the most suitable way to collect payment from you.

If you don’t pay the fine or don't give the information you’ve been asked for within 10 days, you may be summonsed to an interview with the collection officer to get the information. 

If you don’t pay a court fine

If you haven’t paid your fine, the collection officer will consider different ways to collect the money from you.

Paying by instalments or extra time to pay

You may ask to pay your overdue fine by instalments, or for more time to pay, either in writing or verbally.  You must give the information asked for in the means enquiry form.

The collection officer will consider your application and tell you their decision.

Deductions from benefits

If paying by instalments or a time extension is difficult or unsuccessful, and you’re over 18 years old and get any of the benefits below, the unpaid fine might be deducted from your benefits. This can happen with or without your consent.

Your fine could be deducted from:

  • Jobseeker's Allowance
  • pension credit
  • Income Support
  • Employment and Support Allowance

The maximum that can be taken is £5.00 per week. 

You can also ask the court or the collection officer to take the fine from your benefits.

Attachment of Earnings Order

If paying by instalments or a time extension is difficult or unsuccessful, and you’re over 18 years old and in employment, the collection officer can make an attachment of earnings order, with or without your consent, to your employer. They can ask your employer to take weekly or monthly amounts from your net earnings.

If you haven’t filled in a means enquiry form, the collection officer may ask you or your employer to give a signed statement of earnings, setting out the required financial information.

Your protected earnings amount is 60 per cent of your net earnings. If your fine is taken from your earnings, the deduction can't leave you with less than 60 per cent of your net earnings.

Deductions from weekly earnings

The amount taken to repay your fine depends on how much you earn weekly.

Net earnings Deduction from net earnings (percentage)
£100 or less no deduction
More than £100 up to £160 three per cent
More than 160 up to £220 five per cent
More than £220 up to £270 seven per cent
More than £270 up to £375 11 per cent
More than £375 up to £520 15 per cent
More than £520 20 per cent

Deductions from monthly earnings 

The amount taken to repay your fine depends on how much you earn monthly.

Net earnings Deduction from net earnings (percentage)
£430 or less No deduction
More than £430 up to £690 three per cent
More than £690 up to to £950 five per cent
More than £950 up to £1160 seven per cent
More than £1160 up to £1615 11 per cent
More than £1615 up to £2240 15 per cent
More than £2240 20 per cent

If you already have attachment of earnings orders or direct earnings attachments in place, the attachment of earnings order given by the collection officer takes priority with other priority orders, such as maintenance orders, over other debt orders. Where you have two or more priority orders , these are prioritised in date order.

Your employer can take £1.00 for administration costs each time they take an amount from your earnings.

Bank account orders

If paying by instalments, a time extension, deduction from benefits or attachment of earnings orders, is difficult or unsuccessful and you have a bank account in your sole name, a collection officer can ask your bank for information. 

A collection officer can issue an interim bank account order to your bank, freezing the financial penalty you owe. They'll refer the case back to court within 28 days for the judge to consider making a bank account order.  You'll get a summons for this court hearing.

Applying for a hardship order

If you or your dependants are having difficulty meeting living expenses due to an interim bank account order, you can apply to the collection officer for a hardship order, releasing some or all of the money frozen in your account (for example to pay a household bill).

You'll get information about applying for a hardship order and how to get money from your bank account to pay a fine with the interim bank account order the collection officer gives you.

Only a court can make a bank account order.  A minimum credit balance of £5.00 will stay in your account to keep the account open. 

The bank can charge you fees for the interim bank account order or bank account order.

Vehicle seizure order

If you own a vehicle and none of the other payment collection methods worked, the collection officer may refer the case back to court, asking the judge to consider making a vehicle seizure order. This allows the police to seize your vehicle, to get payment for the fine you owe. You'll get a summons for this court hearing.

Only a judge can make a vehicle seizure order. They'll decide if a vehicle seizure order is justified, reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances of your case. They'll consider how  a vehicle seizure order could affect your income.

Once a vehicle seizure order has been made by the court, you'll have 28 days to pay before the vehicle seizure order will be issued to police to seize the vehicle.

When the vehicle is seized, you can reclaim the vehicle by paying the fine to the court and removal and storage charges to release the vehicle.   

If you don’t pay the financial penalties and charges within 28 days from the date of seizure, the vehicle may be sold.  Charges and the financial penalties will be taken from the sale proceeds. You'll get any remaining balance.

Appealing a collection officer’s decision

You can appeal any of the collection officer’s decisions.  You must lodge the appeal in the court where your fine was imposed within 14 days of the date of the collection officer’s decision.  You'll get information about appealing when the collection officer gives you a decision.

If your fine is still owed

If a collection officer is unable to get your payment through any of the methods they can use, your case will go back to court. You'll get a summons for this court hearing.

The judge may order you to pay the costs of a referral hearing, for example the cost to have the summons served on you by a summons server.  The judge can use all the collections methods, make a supervised activity order or sentence you to prison. 

Supervised activity orders

A supervised activity order (SAO) gives you unpaid work to do in the community to clear a financial penalty.  It also includes a session on money management and citizenship before your unpaid work takes place.

An SAO can only be made if:

  • you are 18 years old or over
  • you have an unpaid fine up to £1,000

The judge sets your hours between 10 and 150 hours, depending on how much you owe. 

You can complete your SAO early by paying the amount you owe to the court. Your fine will be reduced by the hours you've already worked.

You can apply to the court for a supervised activity order when the court first gives you a fine.

If you don't complete you supervised activity order, your case will go back to court.

Imprisonment

The judge can send you to prison if you don't pay the fine. The judge will decide how long you stay in prison depending on how much of the fine is unpaid.

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