Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Gesture Politics

The proposal to deduct up to £25 per week from benefits to pay off fines is a political gesture designed to look tough and play well in the right-wing press, but it doesn't make all that much sense at court level.
Jobseekers' Allowance (by far the most usual source of income for those who appear before us) is at the rate of £53.45 per week for under 25 year-olds, and £67.50 for those over that age. 16 to 24 is the peak age for offending, we are told, so if this proposal is implemented younger offenders will be expected to live on £28.45 a week - just over four pounds a day.
The reason why standard Deduction From Benefit Orders are set at a fiver is not misguided leniency, but the fact that when benefit rates were calculated the Civil Service worked out the basic necessities of life and added on a munificent £5 for little luxuries - that is what is deducted.
Another enforcement tool for those in work is an Attachment of Earnings Order, but the rules for that provide a Protected Earnings Rate below which income must not fall; no such caveat is proposed here.
It is mandatory to fill in a Means Form, but there are no resources to check these, and most are works of pure fiction. Someone on benefit, or unwaged such as a student, is deemed to have an RWI (Relevant Weekly Income) of £100, and that's what most defendants turn out to have. So if someone is fined on Band C (1.5 x RWI) the fine will be £150, dropping to £100 for a guilty plea. For Band A (low-level offences) it is 50% of RWI, so that's £35 for a plea.
Won't take long to knock that off at £25 a week will it, even after costs and the pesky Surcharge?

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