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i England and Wales

Magistrates’ court fines

The magistrates' court deals with most criminal cases in England and Wales. Things like traffic offences, fines for unpaid TV licences, public order offences, and antisocial behaviour.

The most common sentences given out by magistrates are financial penalties or fines.

Magistrates fines are a priority debt because there can be serious consequences if you do not pay.

Magistrates' courts can issue liability orders for council tax and child support arrears, but the rules for these debts are different.

How are magistrates' fines set?

If a court finds you guilty and sets a fine as punishment, they will ask you to give details of your income.

The court sets the fine amount based on:

  • The type of offence
  • How serious your case was
  • Your ability to pay

You must go to the hearing, and take details of your financial situation with you. It is a good idea to take:

  • Proof of your income or benefits
  • A budget showing your total income and living expenses

We can help you put together a budget for this.

The court may set the fine higher than you can manage if you:

  • Do not go to the hearing, or
  • Do not give correct information about your circumstances

You can try to get the fine reduced, but it is not easy to do.

The court may order you to pay compensation and court costs on top of the fine.

How are court fines collected?

The court issues a collection order that tells you how you should pay the fine. This could be:

  • Payment in full
  • Weekly or monthly instalments
  • An attachment of earnings, which takes payment from your wages
  • A deduction from benefits, which takes payment from a DWP benefit

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What should I do if I cannot afford my court fine?

Phone or write to the fines officer at the court if you cannot afford the payments to a fine.

  • Ask them if the payments can be reduced
  • Try to do this before you miss a payment

Attachments of earnings or deductions from benefits are taken at fixed amounts. You cannot reduce the payments once they are set.

The fines officer may not agree to reduce your payments. They may pass your case to a magistrate or District Judge to decide instead.

What happens if I miss payments to a fine?

The court will take further steps if you do not make the payments in the collection order.

These include:

  • Setting an attachment of earnings or deduction from benefits
  • Sending bailiffs (enforcement agents) to visit your home and remove goods – this is a common way to enforce fines
  • A charging order securing the debt against your home

The fines officers may refer your case back to a magistrate or District Judge. They can take extra steps to collect the fine, including:

  • Increasing the fine by 50%
  • Ordering you to do unpaid work, also called ‘community service’
  • Sending you to prison

Do I need a solicitor in a magistrates' court?

You may not need a solicitor for less serious cases.

You must get qualified legal advice from a solicitor if:

  • The case is serious
  • There is a risk of prison
  • You do not agree that you committed the offence

The Criminal Law Solicitor's Association can help you find a solicitor in your area. You may need to pay for legal advice.

Can I go to prison if I do not pay my fine?

You can go to prison if you do not pay a fine. This tends to be a last resort.

Prison is a risk if:

  • The court has tried all other ways to get you to pay, or
  • You refuse to pay

In some cases, a court can give you a 'suspended committal' to prison. This gives you one last chance to pay the fine and avoid prison.

How can you help?

We can help you:

  • Make a budget to show the court what you can afford to pay
  • Deal with your debts

Get started with our online debt advice tool. All our advice is free and impartial.

We do not judge and you do not need to tell us how you got the fine.