HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc35-6WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

One of the Government's priorities is to improve performance in the collection of fines and reinvigorate fines as an effective penalty for those who commit crime, thereby increasing public confidence in the criminal justice system.

Currently, offenders who default on payment of fines and are receiving income support, jobseeker's allowance or pension credit, may have the sum of £2.80 deducted weekly from their benefit, by way of a third party deduction, until the fine or fines are recovered in full.

However, this cash repayment is frequently too low for effective enforcement of financial penalties. It is often below the minimum repayment rate that magistrates can accept from offenders unable to pay immediately and in full, and it results in a repayment period that is too drawn-out.

We are therefore increasing the amount of this weekly deduction from £2.80 to £5. This increase will be subject to the normal rules governing implementation of the various third party deductions from benefit that may be made, including the maximum amount for such deductions. If those rules preclude a £5 deduction but would allow one of £2.80, that rate will apply instead. This change is also consistent with the £5 now required from some non-resident parents on benefit towards child support maintenance.

This will support the Government's efforts to restore confidence in fines as an effective penalty and therefore a credible alternative to prison. The increase is aimed at those offenders who simply refuse to repay their fines or those who opt to pay by deduction from benefit. It supports the wide-ranging work that the Department for Constitutional Affairs is carrying out in this area.

We propose to amend regulations so that the increase will come into force from April 2005.