Councils Issue £6.8 Million Worth Of School Fines In A Single Year


The Law Of... challenging a penalty notice by local authorities

  • 105 councils issued 114,165 fines to parents in the 15/16 school year
  • Suffolk, Lancashire and Bradford top chart for number of fines issued
  • Nearly 42,000 fines handed out by ten most prolific councils
  • Lawyer slams councils for scaremongering and misleading parents
Figures obtained by law firm Simpson Millar through a freedom of information request have revealed that more than 114,000 fines were issued to parents in the 2015/2016 school year for unauthorised absence.

Julie Robertson - Partner at Simpson Millar LLP

If a school notifies the local council that a child has had unauthorised absence, the council can issue the parents with a £60 fixed penalty notice which rises to £120 if it isn’t paid within 21 days.

If all 114,165 fines issued by the 105 councils that responded to the request were paid within 21 days, it would amount to £6,849,900.

Which council handed out the most school fines in a year?

The data highlights significant regional differences, with the highest number of fines handed out by Suffolk, Lancashire, Bradford, Manchester, Hampshire and Essex each issuing more than 4,000 in the past year. At the other end of the table, Oxfordshire County Council issued just 69 fines.

114,165 fines were issued to parents by local councils in the 2015-2016 school year

Solicitor Julie Robertson from Simpson Millar specialises in helping families challenge unreasonable fines. She says: "These figures are quite frankly staggering. Even though some cities clearly have more school children on their books than others, it seems that certain areas are particularly prolific when it comes to handing out fines for unauthorised absence."

According to Simpson Millar’s figures, the bottom 27 councils combined issued the same number of fines (5691) as Suffolk County Council issued on its own in the last school year (5668).

Julie comments: "What one head teacher agrees are special circumstances, another doesn’t. It is a postcode lottery. We need more consistency and, in some areas, more common sense."

"Clearly, some schools are using their discretion appropriately where the parents are sensible in their choices and decisions. Others seem to be rather abundant in slapping parents with a fine regardless of the circumstances. You have to wonder why, for example, almost twice as many fines were issued in the North West compared with London."

Education Penalty Notices were introduced by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 in a bid to help curb unauthorised absence for children of school age. But the law has increasingly outraged parents who have been fined for taking children with a good attendance record out of school for a specific reason.

Misinforming parents of their rights

Julie is concerned about parents’ lack of understanding when it comes to their rights to challenge Education Penalty Notices, and says they are often told wrongly that they have no right to appeal. Despite issuing 1883 Education Penalty Notices, Peterborough City Council said not a single parent had appealed. In contrast, Suffolk County Council withdrew 709 fines, Bradford City Council withdrew 498 fines, Derbyshire County Council withdrew 343 fines, Manchester City Council withdrew 299 fines and Norfolk County Council withdrew 260. In total, 46 councils declared that they had withdrawn 4865 fines between them.

Julie says: "It is hugely worrying that parents are told by some councils that they have no statutory right of appeal when in fact they have a common law right to do just that. It is misleading and very concerning. I would even call it a breach of duty on behalf of certain authorities."

Julie says: "Parents naturally place a lot of trust in the authorities at their children’s school; when they are told they have no right to appeal, they take it at face value and pay up."

Julie says the tone and language used on websites regarding the rules around Education Penalty Notices appears to deliberately frighten parents into paying the fines quickly.

She says: "The threat of criminal proceedings and a possible conviction naturally makes parents pay up without question. It is a very effective tactic. The Government's own website highlights that parents whose children are missing school without a good reason could be forced to take parenting classes. This is ludicrous."

Julie wants parents to be given clear and independent guidance about how they can challenge an Education Penalty Notice when it is issued.

She says: "The court is our safeguard to ensure that rules are being applied fairly, and more parents need to take advantage of that opportunity. To do that they need to understand how they can challenge an Education Penalty Notice."

"In court, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, not the parents. The prosecution has to prove that the parent did not secure regular attendance and, in my experience, they often can’t. In fact, these cases are regularly thrown out of court at half time."

"Any parent who feels they have wrongly been issued with an Education Penalty Notice should seek legal advice within the first 21 days."

In the school year, parents have been handed penalty notices with a total value of at least £6,849,90

Julie says, for many of her clients, the issue is not about money: "Parents who ask for my help in challenging an Education Penalty Notice feel passionately that they made the right decision on behalf of their family and their children, or that they had no choice."

"They don’t want it on record that they are bad parents, let alone to face criminal sanctions."

By way of an example, Wigan Council’s website states that: "If you are taken to court, there are only four reasons that you can defend the charges against you". These are if your child:

  • Is ill or couldn’t go to school due to an emergency
  • Lives over a certain distance and we haven’t been able to help get them into a school nearer to you or help with transport
  • Misses school due to religious reasons
  • Has an authorised absence"

According to Julie, this is misleading. "It misses the point that if a parent is prosecuted, it is for the council to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a parent has not secured regular attendance. In other words, the list should also include reference to the child having had regular attendance at school."

In 2015/26, Poole Borough Council issued 328 fixed penalty notices for unauthorised absence; 318 of those were for unauthorised term-time family holidays.

With half term approaching, Julie is calling on schools and councils to take a more common sense approach to any term-time absence that may occur.

"Being on holiday, especially for those children for whom it is a rare occasion, is both educational and hugely valuable on a number of levels. It seems that, in some regions, rules are all that matter. I can only urge head teachers to consider requests for unauthorised absence seriously, and to issue fines in the context of each child’s record and circumstances."

Julie Robertson comments on the thousands of parents who are wrongly told they cannot challenge a penalty notice by local authorities

Some councils provided figures for how many Education Penalty Notices were withdrawn either due to an appeal by the parent or because it was wrongly issued. Others simply stated that parents have no statutory right to appeal.

RegionHow many Education Penalty Notices were issued to parents in the 2015/2016 school year?Minimum value of Penalty Notices calculated x £60 (if paid within 21 days).
North West 22687 £1,361,220
North East 4403 £264,180
London 13397 £803,820
South West 3975 £238,500
South East 15461 £927,660
East 16157 £969,420
West Midlands 8656 £519,360
East Midlands 8396 £503,760
Yorkshire and The Humber 21033 £1,261,980
TOTAL 114,165 £6,849,900

CouncilNumber of EPNs IssuedValue if Paid at £60
Suffolk County Council5668£340,080
Lancashire County Council5654£339,240
Bradford City Council4985 £299,100
Manchester City Council 4579 £274,740
Hampshire County Council 4337 £260,220
Essex County Council 4095 £245,700
Leeds City Council 3478 £208,680
Redbridge London Borough Council 3182 £190,920
Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council 3015 £180,900
Leicester City Council 2984 £179,040
West Sussex County Council 2794 £167,640
Derbyshire County Council 2810 £166,260
Newham London Borough Council 2440 £146,400
Sheffield City Council 2227 £133,620
Norfolk County Council 2161 £129,660
Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council 2149 £128,940
Bristol City Council 1921 £115,260
Tower Hamlets London Borough Council 1915 £114,900
Wakefield City Council 1906 £114,360
Peterborough City Council 1883 £112,980
Coventry City Council 1771 £106,260
Staffordshire County Council 1595 £95,700
Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council 1579 £94,740
Medway Council 1557 £93,420
East Riding of Yorkshire Council 1,454 £87,240
Tameside Metropolitan Borough 1376 £82,560
Derby City Council 1297 £77,820
Leicestershire County Council 1118 £67,080
Buckinghamshire County Council 1097 £65,820
Salford City Council 1,096 £65,760
Portsmouth City Council 1093 £65,580
Sefton Borough Council 1,045 £62,700
Slough Borough Council 1011 £60,660
Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council 987 £59,220
Isle of Wight Council 958 £57,480
Durham County Council 927 £55,620
South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council 924 £55,440
North Lincolnshire Borough Council 873 £52,380
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council 844 £50,640
Ealing London Borough Council 839 £50,340
Cheshire West and Chester Council 811 £48,660
Central Bedfordshire Council 805 £48,300
Hull City Council 805 £48,300
Cheshire East Council 794 £47,640
Southampton City Council 783 £46,980
Bury Metropolitan Borough Council 779 £46,740
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council 767 £46,020
Cambridgeshire County Council 748 £44,880
Thurrock Borough Council 707 £42,420
Telford and Wrekin Borough Council 696 £41,760
Croydon London Borough Council 673 £40,380
Wolverhampton City Council 645 £38,700
Wiltshire Council 627 £37,620
Worcestershire County Council 567 £34,020
Sutton London Borough Council 566 £33,960
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council 563 £33,780
Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council 537 £32,220
Bracknell Forest Borough Council 524 £31,440
Darlington Borough Council 505 £30,300
Milton Keynes Borough Council 501 £30,060
Torbay Borough Council 499 £29,940
North East Lincolnshire Borough Council 485 £29,100
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council 483 £28,980
Middlesbrough Council 471 £28,260
Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council 455 £27,300
North Yorkshire County Council 455 £27,300
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 454 £27,240
Barking and Dagenham Borough Council 452 £27,120
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council 431 £25,860
Hackney London Borough Council 416 £24,960
Stockton-on-Tees Council 395 £23,700
Brent London Borough Council 391 £23,460
South Gloucestershire Council 364 £21,840
Herefordshire District Council 364 £21,840
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 356 £21,360
Wokingham Borough Council 347 £20,820
Camden London Borough Council 340 £20,400
Poole Borough Council 328 £19,680
Halton Borough Council 323 £19,380
Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council 323 £19,380
Bromley London Borough Council 319 £19,140
St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council 317 £19,020
Harrow London Borough Council 310 £18,600
Lewisham London Borough Council 303 £18,180
Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council 295 £17,700
Wandsworth London Borough Council 285 £17,100
Merton London Borough Council 260 £15,600
Greenwich London Borough Council 255 £15,300
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council 251 £15,060
Northumberland County Council 248 £14,880
Gloucestershire County Council 236 £14,160
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council 216 £12,960
Bexley Borough Council 204 £12,240
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead 197 £11,820
West Berkshire District Council 193 £11,580
Newcastle upon Tyne City Council 154 £9,240
Lincolnshire County Council 149 £8,940
Sunderland City Council 134 £8,040
Stoke-on-Trent City Council 128 £7,680
Haringey London Borough Council 125 £7,500
Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council 122 £7,320
North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council 108 £6,480
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council 90 £5,400
Rutland County Council 77 £4,620
Oxfordshire County Council 69 £4,140
Cumbria County CouncilNo Information Provided
Liverpool City CouncilNo Information Provided
Royal Borough of Kensington and ChelseaNo Information Provided
Kingston upon Thames London Borough CouncilNo Information Provided
Waltham Forest London Borough CouncilNo Information Provided
Kent County CouncilNo Information Provided
Barnet London Borough CouncilNo Information Provided
Devon County CouncilNo Information Provided
Shropshire CouncilNo Information Provided

Note: Some councils stated that schools were still sending requests for fines to be issued for the 15/16 school year at the time when Simpson Millar’s Freedom of Information request was made in August and September 2016. As such, the total figure may be revised up slightly.

At the time this press release was issued, the following councils had not provided their figures: Cumbria County Council, Liverpool City Council, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council, Waltham Forest London Borough Council, Kent County Council, Barnet London Borough Council, Devon County Council, Shropshire Council.

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