4. Assessment of financial circumstances

While the initial consideration for the assessment of a fine is the offender’s relevant weekly income, the court is required to take account of the offender’s financial circumstances including assets more broadly. Guidance on important parts of this assessment is set out below.

An offender’s financial circumstances may have the effect of increasing or reducing the amount of the fine; however, they are not relevant to the assessment of offence seriousness. They should be considered separately from the selection of the appropriate fine band and the court’s assessment of the position of the offence within the range for that band.

Out of the ordinary expenses

In deciding the proportions of relevant weekly income that are the starting points and ranges for each fine band, account has been taken of reasonable living expenses. Accordingly, no further allowance should normally be made for these. In addition, no allowance should normally be made where the offender has dependants.

Outgoings will be relevant to the amount of the fine only where the expenditure is out of the ordinary and substantially reduces the ability to pay a financial penalty so that the requirement to pay a fine based on the standard approach would lead to undue hardship.

Unusually low outgoings

Where the offender’s living expenses are substantially lower than would normally be expected, it may be appropriate to adjust the amount of the fine to reflect this. This may apply, for example, where an offender does not make any financial contribution towards his or her living costs.

Savings

Where an offender has savings these will not normally be relevant to the assessment of the amount of a fine although they may influence the decision on time to pay.

However, where an offender has little or no income but has substantial savings, the court may consider it appropriate to adjust the amount of the fine to reflect this.

Household has more than one source of income

Where the household of which the offender is a part has more than one source of income, the fine should normally be based on the income of the offender alone.

However, where the offender’s part of the income is very small (or the offender is wholly dependent on the income of another), the court may have regard to the extent of the household’s income and assets which will be available to meet any fine imposed on the offender (R v Engen [2004] EWCA Crim 1536 (CA)).

Potential earning capacity

Where there is reason to believe that an offender’s potential earning capacity is greater than his or her current income, the court may wish to adjust the amount of the fine to reflect this (R v Little (unreported) 14 April 1976 (CA)). This may apply, for example, where an unemployed offender states an expectation to gain paid employment within a short time. The basis for the calculation of fine should be recorded in order to ensure that there is a clear record for use in variation or enforcement proceedings.

High income offenders

Where the offender is in receipt of very high income, a fine based on a proportion of relevant weekly income may be disproportionately high when compared with the seriousness of the offence. In such cases, the court should adjust the fine to an appropriate level; as a general indication, in most cases the fine for a first time offender pleading not guilty should not exceed 75 per cent of the maximum fine. In the case of fines which are unlimited the court should decide the appropriate level with the guidance of the legal adviser.