The Home Office anticipates all police forces will resume handing out £10,000 “super fines” from Wednesday, hours after it emerged officers had been advised to stop doing so.
The levies were suspended on Friday after the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) issued advice to every force about a “potential disparity” in punishment if the fines were challenged in court.
When Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) fines cases go before magistrates they are means-tested, meaning the recipient’s ability to pay is taken into account.
But those who choose to pay the fine within 28 days, agree to hand over the full amount.
The NPCC’s advice only emerged on Tuesday when Labour’s West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson revealed he had written to Policing Minister Kit Malthouse seeking “urgent” clarification on the issue.
He claimed the Government had failed to provide the police with “workable Covid legislation”.
Nottinghamshire’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Paddy Tipping, said he was “surprised at the guidance from the NPCC”, having received a written commendation from Home Secretary Priti Patel for being the first force to issue a super-fine.
The NPCC said on Tuesday it had issued guidance to all forces and immediately informed the Home Office, after the potential disparity came to light, and was “working urgently” with the Government to solve the issue.
Within two hours of the NPCC’s statement being issued, the Home Office said it anticipated all forces would start handing out super-fines again by Wednesday.
Asked how the “potential disparity” had been overcome, the Home Office said in a statement it was “working with forces to ensure people are fully aware of their options when faced with a Fixed Penalty Notice”.
“If someone chooses not to pay their Fixed Penalty Notice, the matter may be considered by a court and the individual could be subject to a criminal conviction,” a spokeswoman added.
The PA news agency understands part of a solution to the problem is to also inform those already issued with a super-fine and still within their payment period they do have the option of going to court.
Earlier, Mr Jamieson said he had found the situation “deeply embarrassing” personally, having been an “enthusiastic” supporter of the introduction of tough rules.
Speaking before the Home Office’s statement, West Midlands’ chief constable David Thompson had described the situation as “unfortunate”.
Explaining the background to the NPCC decision at a meeting of the region’s strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday morning, he added that alleged rule-breakers would instead get a court summons.
Mr Thompson, who is a vice chair of the NPCC and its national finance lead, said the £10,000 amount was “unusual” for a fixed penalty notice (FPN), and it was the large fine amount where a concern had arisen.
He added: “The issue is – last week – the fixed penalty notice was suspended and that is because of the debate over the means by which the person can meet the cost of that fine would normally be assessed by a court.
“The level (of fine) is so high there is a concern emerging that actually levying through a fixed penalty is problematic.”
He added that the force had employed a “very tight policy” around issuing the super-fines – issuing 13 to date – “because we have been very conscious a £10,000 levied fine is substantial”.
Mr Jamieson also asked what the situation was for those fined who had already paid, asking “if they will be getting a rebate” or “go to court retrospectively”, and those who had not yet paid.
However, the chief constable was unable to answer those queries.
The commissioner said: “I have written to the policing minister expressing my extreme anger this legislation wasn’t properly thought-through and led us into the position we were in today.”
An NPCC spokesman said: “On Friday 13 November we advised all forces to temporarily take enforcement steps by way of summons, rather than by issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice to the value of £10,000 for offences relating to gatherings of over 30 people under Covid regulations.
“We gave this advice because of a potential disparity between those who opt to pay the FPN and those who see their case reach the court where the FPN would be means tested against personal income.
“We are working with Government to urgently address this matter, and once rectified, we intend to advise that forces resume issuing £10,000 FPNs wherever appropriate.”
The NPCC have been approached for further comment following the Home Office’s statement.