How many truanting fines go unpaid by parents?

6 October 2015
What was claimed

40% of fines for pupil absence go unpaid.

Our verdict

Incorrect. About 20% of fines went unpaid in England in 2012/13. 63% were paid within the maximum time limit, but some of the remainder were withdrawn rather than unpaid.

"Parents in England who refuse to pay a penalty after their children play truant will have their child benefit docked, the prime minister has said.

"A civil penalty of up to £120 would be claimed through child benefit if the fine is not paid after 28 days. Currently, 40% of fines go unpaid."

BBC News, 6 October 2015

It's incorrect to say 40% of fines for pupil absence go unpaid: about 20% were unpaid in 2012/13. 

63% of fines were paid within 42 days—which at the time was the cut-off point for paying before prosecution was considered instead.

But the remaining 37% includes fines that were withdrawn, rather than all being unpaid.

Around 50,000 fines imposed by schools

Schools, local authorities or the police in England can fine parents £60 if their child truants or is absent from school without authorisation (such as an unauthorised term time holiday). If that's not paid within 21 days, they have a further 7 days to pay £120.

If they don't pay after 28 days, they will either face prosecution for allowing the child to be absent, or the fine will be withdrawn.

David Cameron has announced that parents who don't pay the fine within 28 days will have the £120 charge recouped from their child benefit.

The latest figures on these fines issued to parents relate to 2012/13, when it was a £60 fine up to 28 days and £120 up to 42 days.

Out of the 49,000 fines that were paid, unpaid or withdrawn in the 2012/13 academic year, 57% of them were paid within 28 days and a further 6% paid between 29 and 42 days. 20% remained unpaid after 42 days and 17% were withdrawn.

This includes fines that may have been issued in the previous academic year.

Reasons for withdrawal are either because the fine was issued incorrectly, or if the local authority decided not to pursue legal proceedings after the penalty went unpaid for 42 days.

It's not clear if in the latter instance cases coming under this heading might have been counted in both the category of being withdrawn and the category of being unpaid: we're checking this with the Department.

Increasing numbers of parents are being prosecuted in court

For those prosecuted in court, the BBC claimed:

"The Press Association says it obtained figures earlier this year which showed 16,430 people in England were prosecuted last year for failing to ensure that a child went to school.

About three-quarters - 12,479 - of these were found guilty, and courts issued 9,214 parents with fines worth an average of £172."

They're pretty much right, based on figures from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. There's also data publicly available for England and Wales together—we've stuck to the FOI data here just because it's what the BBC is referring to.

The only slight discrepancy is over the average fine, but the figure of £172 is close enough.

The £172 is based on adding together and dividing by two the average fines for two separate offences—which doesn't account for the relative frequencies of each offence.

The less common and more severe offence of parents knowing that their child is failing to attend school regularly and failing "without reasonable justification" to get their child to attend school attracted a lower average fine—perhaps because some of them end up in prison as well.

Accounting for the frequencies of each offence shows the average fine to be closer to £179.

Update 21 October 2015

We've updated references to "truancy fines" in the piece to "pupil absence" to account for the range of reasons for which parents can be fined—which includes unauthorised pupil absence from schools for reasons other than just a child playing truant. We've also added in a reference to these other circumstances in the explanation of the fines.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.