If you’ve been given a magistrates’ court fine it’s important you pay it. If you don’t, the court can:

  • take the money from your wages or benefits

  • send bailiffs to your home to collect what you owe – you’ll have to pay bailiff’s fees as well as your outstanding fine
  • ‘register’ the fine – this means the fine will stay on your credit history for 5 years and might stop you from getting credit in the future

In extreme cases you could be put in prison, but normally only if the court thinks you’re deliberately not paying.

Court fines are a priority debt. This means you need to pay them before debts like credit cards.

If you have more than one debt, you should read our ‘get help with debt‘ guide – or talk to an adviser.

How to pay the fine

The court will send you a letter that tells you how much to pay, when you have to pay by and where to send the money – this is called a ‘notice of fine’.

You can also pay court fines online at GOV.UK.

If you can’t afford to pay the fine

Check your letters from the court to find out who to contact.

You should ask if you can pay:

  • in instalments (or in smaller amounts if you’re already paying in instalments)

  • over a longer period

  • at a later date
If you can’t find any contact details, find the court or tribunal on GOV.UK.

Work out your budget

You’ll need to show how much you can afford to pay, so it’s a good idea to work out your budget before you contact the court. You can use our budgeting tool to do this, or you can talk to an adviser.

If your income has gone down, or you’ve got no money left after essential bills like rent, Council Tax (rates in Northern Ireland) or gas and electric, you should explain this to the court.

They might agree to cancel the fine (write it off) if it’s clear you can no longer afford to pay it.

If you don’t pay the fine in time

If the court hasn’t heard from you by the deadline in your notice of fine letter, they’ll send you another letter – this tells you what further steps they’re planning to take.

If you still don’t pay, the court will usually ask bailiffs to collect the debt.

If bailiffs collect the debt

You can read more about what to do if bailiffs are on your doorstep.

Bailiffs have to give you at least 7 days’ notice before they come to your home.

They might let you pay in instalments, but they’ll normally want the debt paid off quickly, for example within a few weeks. It’s often better to try to negotiate a repayment plan with the court before the bailiffs turn up.

If you can’t pay your court fine to the bailiffs, they’re allowed to use reasonable force to enter your home – but they can’t push you out the way or assault you.

If you’re told to go to a hearing

If you get a court summons for not paying your court fine, you must go to the hearing – unless you’ve paid the fine in full before you’re due in court. You could be arrested and put in prison if you don’t.

A hearing is your chance to show the court how much you can afford to pay, so make sure you take evidence of your income and living expenses with you.

Coronavirus – if you’re going to court

Some courts are closed and others are changing the way they work. You need to check how these changes will affect you on GOV.UK.

You can check how to prepare if the court arranges a hearing by phone or video call.

The court can’t send you to prison at a hearing by phone or video call.

If you go to the court in person, you’ll have to wear a mask or covering for your mouth and nose. If you don’t wear one, you won’t be allowed in the building. Some people don’t have to wear one – check who doesn’t have to wear a mask or face covering on GOV.UK.

If the court hasn’t told you how to attend your hearing, contact them to find out. You can search for their contact details on GOV.UK.

You can ask an adviser if you’re not sure what documents you need. It’s a good idea to get legal help too.

The consequences of a hearing can be serious, for example the judge can increase your fine by 50% or even send your case to the High Court. A solicitor can help you explain your circumstances to the judge.

If you can’t afford a solicitor, check if you’re eligible for legal aid. There may be other ways you can get legal help.