Magistrates’ Courts Fines
Bailiffs get involved with Magistrates’ Court fines when you have received a fine (usually for offences such as speeding, driving without road tax or insurance, not having a TV Licence and other criminal acts), and have failed to keep up payments on the fine. If it remains unpaid, a ‘Distress Warrant’ may be issued which is then passed to one of four bailiff companies for enforcement. The companies are Swift, Marstons, Excel and Philips (see Clamping Orders below). The contracts with these companies state that all bailiffs executing Distress Warrants must be certificated.
To check if a bailiff is certificated you can check here . If the bailiff does not appear there, you should phone the Ministry of Justice on 020 3334 6355. They will be able to tell you which court issued the original certificate and you can then call that court and check the details further. However, please note that there may be administrative delays and if a search reveals that a bailiff is not listed as certificated then you should inform the bailiff that a search of the HMCS on-line Certificated Bailiff’s Register does not include him. You should then request a copy of his certificate, or have him confirm which Court granted his certificate and when.
It is a criminal offence for a bailiff to collect a debt or to attempt to collect the above mentioned debts while in possession of an expired certificate or when they have never been in possession of one. It is known as “illegal distress” and the bailiff should be reported.
Magistrates’ Court fines must be treated as a priority debt. This is because you could be sent to prison if you default on repayments.
Many Magistrates’ Courts also use the services of Private Bailiffs.
Administration Fee £85.00
Attendance Fee £215.00 (a one off fee)
Other fees vary between the four companies, but they will include:
Clamping Fees (up to three of these)
Clamp Removal Fee
Removal to pound fee
Debit / Credit card fee
Dishonoured payment fee
Unauthorised removal of clamp fee
What If I Cannot Pay What the Bailiff is Demanding?
Although this is covered below, it is worth mentioning here to avoid panic! In a Magistrates’ Court, there is no simple form for Stay of Execution or Variation of Terms of Agreement as there is in the civil courts. However, if a bailiff if visiting you (Stage 4 below) and demanding more than you can afford, you can, and should write to the Court, or even attend in person and ask for a Means Enquiry Hearing. It is entirely up to the court whether or not you are granted a hearing. You may need to ask several times, and there is still no guarantee of success at this stage.
If there is any question of vulnerability with you, get a letter from a health professional to take with you, you are far more likely then to be granted the hearing.
Eventually you will be offered one as part of the process anyway, but it is good if you can show your willingness and anxiety to settle the fine.
Bailiffs are not keen to accept installments with Magistrates’ Courts fines as they do not receive payment until the whole fine is settled. However, they cannot over-ride a court order.
The more straightforward aspect of Magistrates’ Court fines is that there is a very clear procedure set down which should always be followed:
1. After you have been fined, you will be sent notice of the fine and the repayment rate, if one has been set.
2. If payments are not made, or payments are missed, you will be sent a reminder (Further Steps Notice)
3. If you do not bring your repayments up to date, a court hearing will be arranged and you will be told the date.
4. If you do not attend the hearing, it is likely that a warrant will be issued for your arrest (with or without bail), and you will be brought back before the court. These are normally executed by Private Bailiffs.
5. If a suspended sentence warrant is already in place on the fine, a Committal Warrant will be issued to send you to prison.
6. If a Warrant has been issued, you must pay this. If you cannot pay, you should contact the Fines Office of the Court to arrange for a Means Enquiry Hearing. In this, you simply complete an Income and Expenditure sheet in order that the Magistrates can agree an affordable repayment level. It is critical that you are able to sustain this payment in the long term. Obviously it is in your interest to arrange this hearing as soon as possible. If you are in receipt of certain benefits, you can apply to have the fine paid directly from these at the rate of £5.00 per week.
What about people who are vulnerable?
The National Standards for Enforcement Agents define very clearly the groups of people who may be considered vulnerable.
Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18; they can ask when the debtor will be home – if appropriate.
Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.
Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing translation services when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.
Those who might be potentially vulnerable include:
people with a disability;
the seriously ill;
the recently bereaved;
single parent families;
unemployed people; and,
those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English.
For the full text the National Standards for Enforcement Agents click here. Vulnerable situations are covered on page 9.
About Distress Warrants
Points mentioned here may seem fairly unimportant, but they can supply you with valuable evidence for a complaint.
Firstly, under Stage 2 of the procedure above, you can see a ‘Further Steps Notice’ should be sent out after a missed payment. Many companies do not do this and pass the account straight to bailiffs. If you did not receive this, you should contact the court and ask them if this was sent; if not, why not, and if not please will they call off the enforcement agents until such time as they follow the correct procedure.
If you have failed to pay, or missed a payment on a Magistrates’ Court fine, it is likely you will receive a visit from an enforcement officer enforcing the distress warrant. They must do this within 180 days of it being issued. You have rights here, and these should be exercised. You have the right to see the warrant as the person against whom it is levied. The enforcement officer does not have to have it on him, but he must tell you where and when you can see it.
He must tell you how much the levy is for, and why you have incurred it. He must also show proof of his identity.
Sadly many bailiffs refuse to show the Distress Warrant. It is hard to understand why they would do this if the Distress Warrant is valid.
Another important point for Distress Warrants and Financial Arrest Warrants is that if, on his first visit, the enforcement officer does not make contact with you, he must put through your letterbox a letter with the time and date of his visit, and include on this any specific identifying marks of your property, such as the colour of the door, the colour of the house, permanent garden features etc… This acts as proof of his visit, but is also invaluable later on when checking his fees, as obviously this visit is chargeable, even though you were not there.
If the bailiff fails to abide by any of the above points, you should complain to the Court Manager, ensuring you get at least Proof of Postage.
Bailiffs collecting Magistrates’ Court fines will be given a clamping order. This will specify the name and registration number of the car which he is permitted to clamp. They are not allowed to clamp a car displaying a Blue Badge (disabled badge).
Cars are very appealing to bailiffs as they do not have to gain entry to your property in order to levy on them. Armed with a clamping order, the first you may know about it is when you need your vehicle. Whatever the law states, many bailiffs tend to clamp first, then ask questions later. After 24 hours, the vehicle can be removed to a secure area. Charges for towing a vehicle and for storage are extremely high. If fees remain unpaid, your car will be sold.
One of the most common worries about bailiffs is the claim they can force entry. With a Magistrates’ Court fine, if the bailiff is pursuing you for an unpaid fine for a criminal offence they do have the right to force entry. Usually this is used as a threat, but in these circumstances, the threat should never be taken lightly. The rules only apply to the Magistrates’ Court though, they do not cover things such as unpaid council tax, unpaid business rates, CSA arrears, parking fines and congestion charges and others.
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