5. Approach to offenders on low income

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 income of an offender whose primary source of income is state benefit (for example, Universal Credit) will have an income related to their level of need.

If relevant weekly income were defined as the amount of benefit received, this would usually result in higher fines being imposed on offenders with a higher level of need; in most circumstances that would not properly balance the seriousness of the offence with the financial circumstances of the offender.

Similar issues can arise where an offender is in receipt of a low earned income since this may trigger eligibility for means related benefits such as Universal Credit. It will not always be possible to determine with any confidence whether such a person’s financial circumstances are significantly different from those of a person whose primary source of income is state benefit.

For these reasons, a simpler and fairer approach to cases involving offenders in receipt of low income (whether primarily earned or as a result of benefit) is to identify an amount that is deemed to represent the offender’s relevant weekly income; this is currently £120.