Councils in England issued almost £7 million worth of fines to parents in a single year for pupils’ unauthorised absences from school, figures show.
More than 114,000 fines were handed out in the 2015/16 academic year, according to data released following a Freedom of Information request submitted by a law firm – and the “staggering” figures reveal huge discrepancies in the number issued across the country.
Education Penalty Notices were introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 in a bid to clamp down on unauthorised absenteeism.
Under current legislation if a school notifies the local council that a pupil has had an unauthorised absence, the council can issue their parents with a £60 fixed penalty notice which rises to £120 if it isn’t paid within 21 days.
Parents “may be prosecuted if [they] don’t pay the fine after 28 days”, the Government’s official website states.
If all 114,165 fines issued by the 105 councils that supplied information to Simpson Millar were paid within 21 days, it would amount to over £6.8m, the law firm said.
The data showed “significant” regional differences, with councils in Suffolk, Lancashire, Bradford, Manchester, Hampstead and Essex each sending out more than 4,000 fines over the academic year, while Oxfordshire County Council handed out just 69.
Suffolk County Council issued the highest number of fines – 5,668 – almost the same amount as the number issued collectively by the 27 councils that sent out the fewest fines in that time – 5,691.
“These figures are quite frankly staggering,” said Julie Robinson, a solicitor at Simpson Millar.
What one head teacher will accept as ‘special circumstances’, meaning it is permissible to take a child out of school, another may not, Ms Robinson said, pointing out almost twice as many fines were issued in the North West as in London.
“It’s a postcode lottery. We need more consistency and, in some areas, common sense,” she added.
Ms Robinson also expressed concern over widespread confusion regarding the fines among parents, may of whom are not aware they can appeal the decision.
‘Breach of duty’
“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,” she said.
“It is misleading and very concerning. I would even call it a breach of duty on behalf of certain authorities,” Ms Robinson added.