Specialist Debt Advice Team: TV Licence Case Study
Posted by natalie_pearson August 08, 2019
Shelter Specialist Debt Advice Service offers free professional guidance to free advice agencies in England and Wales. Our experts help you solve even the most challenging debt cases, by phone or online.
A voluntary agency contacted our service about a client who had been fined for not having a TV licence. Part 4, s363 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to use or install TV receiving equipment without a valid licence.
The issue, was that the client had made a token offer of repayment towards the fine based on what he could afford from the details on his deficit financial statement. The offer had been rejected by the court ordering him to pay £20.00 which he then failed to pay.
The client completed a means enquiry form for the court to assess his financial circumstances but did not attend the hearing. The court then arranged for the fine to be deducted directly from his Universal Credit claim.
The maximum deduction rate was applied causing the client financial hardship, as he also had other deductions in place from his Universal Credit for other debts.
The client had asked that the DWP reduce the rate of deduction, which was refused, on the basis that their guidance confirmed that the full deduction rate should be applied. The client had also asked the court to reduce the deduction rate of payment but they advised he contact the DWP.
The voluntary agency required advice and guidance around the deduction rate and whether any steps could be taken to reduce the amount on the grounds of the client’s financial hardship.
Advice: Understanding the Regulations
Fines (Deductions from Income Support) Regulations 1992 regulation 4 (1B) states: deductions for court fines are made at a minimum of at least 5% of the UC standard allowance, or more, subject to a maximum of £108.35 per month.
The provision state that the Secretary of State ‘may’ deduct an amount from UC, this means that that decision is discretionary, i.e. the DWP do not have to make any deduction at all.
If they do decide to make a deduction, then the amount must not be less than 5% of the standard UC allowance, and it must not be more than £108.35. So the DWP can decide whether to make a deduction and if they do decide to make a deduction, it must be for an amount between those two figures.
The DWP cannot reduce a claimant’s standard allowance by more than 40% altogether, including any other debts which are being repaid Schedule 6 Paragraph 4 The Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (Claims and Payments) Regulations 2013.
So a client can ask the DWP to either not make a deduction for the fine at all, or ask that they reduce the amount deducted for the fine to the lowest figure of 5% of the UC standard allowance.
Unfortunately under schedule 3 paragraph 10 the client does not have a right of appeal. If the DWP refuse to change the deduction rate, the client is merely left with submitting a complaint or potentially taking judicial review action against them.
As the client had already asked for a reduction they had the option to make a formal complaint, and if necessary escalating it to the Ombudsman.
We referred to Sandie Locke’s article ‘Universal Credit – teething problems or one big headache?’ in Adviser magazine for information about deductions from Universal Credit.
Remitting the Fine
We also advised on the client’s option to ask the court to remit the fine. If their circumstances had changed (perhaps because their health has deteriorated) since the fine was imposed or if the court did not have information about the client’s means and as a result set the level of fines too high. The power to remit is contained in section S85 Magistrates Court Act 1980. The client would need to write to the fines officer quoting both section 85 and also section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980. Section 142(1) states:
A magistrates’ court may vary or rescind a sentence or other order imposed or made by it when dealing with an offender if it appears to the court to be in the interests of justice to do so; and it is hereby declared that this power extends to replacing a sentence or order which for any reason appears to be invalid by another which the court has power to impose or make.
The client and agency were very happy with the outcome and our assistance in this matter. Feedback was received from the agency after.
I just wanted to give you an update on what has happened with this client as I have had some success. Following an email to the court quoting the legislation they have taken the debt back from the DWP and are asking the judge to look at it again to see if it can be reduced. They are only asking the client to pay £5 per week and on presentation of medical evidence they have said they will not attach any further fines to the client’s UC.
Their response came too late to stop deductions from the client’s July payment, however when I asked them to refund it they said they would do so, which was surprising. I have a couple of colleagues with similar cases and they are using the same letter I did so I am hopeful we will see the same response replicated with them.
I have got nowhere with the DWP on individual client cases so have written a general complaint to the DWP and asking them for a copy of the policy that states they will always take the maximum amount. I will be taking it up with the local MP as well once I get a response from the DWP. Thanks for all your help I do feel like I am getting somewhere.
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By Ryan Hayes, Operations Manager, Specialist Debt Advice Service