Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.
The seriousness of an offence determines the choice of fine band and the position of the offence within the range for that band. The offender’s financial circumstances are taken into account by expressing that position as a proportion of the offender’s relevant weekly income.
- an offender is in receipt of income from employment or is self-employed and
- that income is more than £120 per week after deduction of tax and national insurance (or equivalent where the offender is self-employed),
– the actual income is the relevant weekly income.
- an offender’s only source of income is state benefit (including where there is relatively low additional income as permitted by the benefit regulations) or
- the offender is in receipt of income from employment or is self-employed but the amount of income after deduction of tax and national insurance is £120 per week or less,
– the relevant weekly income is deemed to be £120.
Additional information about the basis for this approach is set out in Approach to offenders on low income.
In calculating relevant weekly income no account should be taken of tax credits, housing benefit, child benefit or similar.
No reliable information
Where an offender has failed to provide information, or the court is not satisfied that it has been given sufficient reliable information, it is entitled to make such determination as it thinks fit regarding the financial circumstances of the offender (Sentencing Code, s.126). Any determination should be clearly stated on the court records for use in any subsequent variation or enforcement proceedings. In such cases, a record should also be made of the applicable fine band and the court’s assessment of the position of the offence within that band based on the seriousness of the offence.
Where there is no information on which a determination can be made, the court should proceed on the basis of an assumed relevant weekly income of £440. This is derived from national median pre- tax earnings*; a gross figure is used as, in the absence of financial information from the offender, it is not possible to calculate appropriate deductions.
Where there is some information that tends to suggest a significantly lower or higher income than the recommended £440 default sum, the court should make a determination based on that information.
A court is empowered to remit a fine in whole or part if the offender subsequently provides information as to means (Sentencing Code, s.127). The assessment of offence seriousness and, therefore, the appropriate fine band and the position of the offence within that band are not affected by the provision of this information.
*(This figure is a projected estimate based upon the 2012-13 Survey of Personal Incomes using economic assumptions consistent with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s March 2015 economic and fiscal outlook. The latest actual figure available is for 2012-13, when median pre-tax income was £404 per week details can be found in an HMRC report. (This link goes to an external website. It will not work if you are offline.))