Paying court fines

The Magistrates (Sheriff in Scotland) court deals with criminal cases such as traffic offences, fines for unpaid TV Licences, public order offences and antisocial behaviour.

Here’s what you should do if you receive a fine.

What is a Magistrates or Sheriff’s court fine?

The Magistrates (Sheriff in Scotland) court deals with some criminal cases such as traffic offences, fines for unpaid TV Licences, public order offences and antisocial behaviour.

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

Magistrate (sheriff) court fines are not to be confused with liability orders for Council Tax or child maintenance arrears, as the rules are different.

If you have been convicted of a crime, a court fine is often used as punishment. The amount of the fine depends on how serious the offence committed was.

Court fines are collected by weekly or monthly instalments and may be deducted from your earnings or benefits. As well as the fine the court may ask you to pay compensation and court costs.

The court will also take into account your financial situation, when considering an appropriate sentence. It will be measured against reasonable living costs.

Find out what to do if you’ve received a County Court Judgment (CCJ) in our guide.

What should I do if I don’t think I can afford my court fine?

Many people will find their finances have been negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak and are struggling to cover their bills and debt payments.

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Magistrate or sheriff court fines are a priority debt and the consequences of non-payment can be serious. This means you must pay them before unsecured debts like loans and credit cards.

Courts have a lot of powers to collect money owed, and in the most extreme cases, you could go to prison for non-payment.

If you can’t afford your payments because of coronavirus, you should phone or write to the fines officer at the court and ask them if there is any help available. They can assist you from there.

Help you might receive can include:

  • An adjustment to how much you have to pay
  • An adjustment to your payment dates

You will find the court’s contact details on the letter.

However, you must not ignore a court fine, even if you are financially impacted by coronavirus.

If your circumstances change, it’s always best to try and get the court order changed rather than falling behind with the payments. If you do nothing, your creditor can take a more serious action.

When can I ask to change the court order?

If you can’t afford to keep up the payments ordered by the court, you can ask to change the terms of the order to fit in with what you can afford to pay. This is called an application to vary the order.

Depending on your financial situation, you could:

  • Pay off the debt in smaller instalments
  • Or say you could no longer pay anything at all, if you can show you’ve lost your job.

You’ll of course have to give details of your financial situation when you make the application.

What happens if I think I might miss a payment?

If you’ve missed repayments, don’t ignore it. Get in touch with the court as soon as you can. They will usually arrange for you to suggest a payment amount you can afford, so you can repay in instalments.

If you have other debts, it’s important you pay them off in the right order as some are more urgent and some lenders have more power than others.

See our advice on how to prioritise your debts to help you work out which ones to pay off first.

If you need support, find free confidential debt advice online, over the phone or near to where you live using our debt advice locator tool.

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