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Paying a court fine

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

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

  • issue a warrant

  • '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 at your nearest Citizens Advice.

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 the Courts and Tribunals Service.

If you can’t afford to pay the fine

You should contact the court where you received the fine and 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 - you can also download the form to ask for more time to pay on the Courts and Tribunals Service website 

You’ll find the court’s contact details on their letter, or you can call NI Direct.

NI Direct
Telephone: 0300 200 7812
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Calls cost 10p per minute from a landline, and from 3p to 40p from a mobile

You can't make a payment if you've received a warrant.

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 at your nearest Citizens Advice.

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’re told to go to a fine default 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.

You can ask an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice to help you gather the 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 issue a 'warrant for distress' to seize your belongings up to the value of your court fine. If they do this, you'll have to pay warrant fees as well. 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.

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