Paying court fines

The Magistrates (Sheriff in Scotland) court deals with criminal cases, such as traffic and public order offences, fines for unpaid TV Licences and antisocial behaviour. Find out 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’ve 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 might be deducted from your earnings or benefits. As well as the fine, the court might ask you to pay compensation and court costs.

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

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 now struggling to cover their bills and debt payments.

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, such as loans and credit cards.

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

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

Help you might receive can include:

  • an adjustment to how much you have to pay
  • an adjustment to your payment dates.

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

But you mustn’t ignore a court fine – even if coronavirus has affected you financially.

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 can:

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

You’ll 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, it’s important not to ignore it.

Get in touch with the court as soon as you can. They’ll usually arrange for you to suggest a payment amount you can afford, so you can repay in instalments.

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

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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