On 11 January 2016, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald commenced the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014. From a MABS perspective, the Act’s instalment plan is very welcomed as it provides that fines are set at a level that takes into account the person’s financial circumstances as well as allowing for payment by instalment. It is important that a person who is on a low income attends court in order to provide information about their financial circumstances.
This new Act provides for the following:
– Fines will be set at a level that takes into account a person’s financial circumstances. The court shall, in determining the amount of the fine (if any) to impose in respect of the offence, take in account the person’s financial circumstances.
– A notice in writing may be served on a person who has been convicted of an offence requiring him or her to attend court and provide information about his or her financial circumstances.
– A court shall, when imposing a fine for more than €100, inform the person of the option to pay the fine in full or to pay in instalments.
– If a person does not pay the fine by the due date for payment , he or she is brought back to court where the judge first considers making an Attachment Order.
– If it is not appropriate to make an Attachment Order, the judge can make either a Recovery Order, (where the fine is more than €500) or a Community Service Order.
– If it is not appropriate for the Court to make an attachment order, recovery order or community service order in respect of the fined person, it may commit the person to prison.
The procedure for the payment of fines by instalment
The new payment by instalment option applies to fines over €100 issued on 11 January 2016 and after. The Act allows for an administration fee to be charged to a person who wishes to pay the fine in instalments but the Fines Office has stated that no administration fee is being charged.
Fines issued before 11 January 2016 fall under the old regulations.
The instructions on how to pay fines is on the reverse of the fine notice. Using the notice, 10% of the amount of fine must be paid by the person in the post office within 42 days of the fine being handed down and this automatically entitles the person to avail of a payment plan.
A Payment Plan will be sent to the person after the first instalment is paid. If a person makes an initial payment within 42 days for more than 10% of the amount of the fine, the Payment Plan will assume that 10% was paid and calculate the amount of future instalments accordingly. When queried, the Fines Office have stated that they have no option but to do this as otherwise there would be too many payment options for an automated payment system to handle. This will be confusing for people who pay more than 10% of the fine and will mean they have to be aware of what they have already paid and how much remains to be paid.
There is no requirement for the person to fill in any forms in order to avail of the option to pay by instalment as the barcode on the Payment Plan will contain all the relevant information. The post office scans the barcode to process the payment.
Payment Plan Notice
The Payment Plan notice must be brought to the Post Office. If the person does not have the barcode, the payment cannot be processed in the post office.
The person has a year to pay the balance of the fine so it can be paid in instalments over 1 year and 42 days. The minimum amount payable in the post office is €5. The barcode on the Payment Plan, when scanned at the post office, will show that payments of €5 or over are accepted. The scanner will also allow residual amounts to be paid, e.g. less than €5, where the fine has been paid in instalments and a residual final amount e.g. less than €5 remains.
If 10% of the fine is not paid within 42 days total amount of fine must be paid without the option to avail of an instalment plan.
If a person has multiple fines they are each dealt with separately so 10% of the amount of each fine must be paid within 42 days to qualify for the instalment plan.
If multiple fines are handed down, fines under €100 must be paid in full and those over €100 can be paid in instalments. However, the Court may, if it thinks appropriate, push out the date by which the fine is to be paid.
MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, is a free, independent, confidential and non-judgmental service which provides advice to individuals or families who are experiencing financial difficulties to deal with their debt problems. You may contact the MABS Helpline at 076-107200, South Galway MABS at 076-1072570 and North Galway MABS at 076-1072560.