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Fixed penalty notices - frequently asked questions
What is a fixed penalty notice?
A fixed penalty notice (FPN) is officially a notice of opportunity to pay a fixed penalty. It is issued by an authorised council enforcement officer or by police to a person who the officer has reason to be believe has committed a criminal offence.
These notices may be issued on-the-spot or through the post.
The notice gives you the option to avoid prosecution. By paying the fixed penalty, the recipient discharges liability to a criminal conviction.
Can I appeal against a fixed penalty notice that I have been issued with?
There are no formal grounds of appeal against a fixed penalty notice being issued. You cannot appeal an officer’s decision to give you an opportunity to avoid prosecution. The officer has given you an invitation to effectively “buy off” your liability to prosecution. By paying the fixed penalty, whilst not an admission of guilt, you agree that an offence has been committed.
Payment of the fixed penalty means no further action will be taken by the Council.
The fixed penalty system saves time for everyone involved (including the offender) as opposed to taking the case to court.
The fixed penalty is likely to be substantially lower than any fine imposed by the courts. For example the maximum penalty which can be imposed by the courts for littering or for fly-posting is £2,500.
If you don’t agree that you have committed the offence for which you received the fixed penalty notice, then the matter will be dealt with through formal prosecution in the courts.
Any mitigating circumstances that you wish to make us aware of can be communicated to us. This must be in writing for legal reasons. The address to use is on the reverse of the fixed penalty notice.
What happens if I don't pay?
If payment of the fixed penalty is not made within suspended enforcement period, the matter is referred to the HM Courts & Tribunals Service for prosecution.
You will receive a summons or written charge in the post.
I don’t agree that I committed the offence for which I have received a fixed penalty notice
If you do not agree that you committed the offence, you have the option to plead not guilty. The law provides that this is by way of prosecution, on summons, and trial in the magistrates’ court (or in some cases before a jury in the Crown Court).
A summons or written charge would be sent to you in the event of non-payment of the fixed penalty, and any defence or mitigation may be presented to the court in the normal way. It will then be up to the court to determine whether or not an offence was committed and therefore whether or not any penalty should be imposed.
This is effectively the mechanism for those wishing to appeal the allegation made in a fixed penalty notice. The issuing of the notice just suspends the starting of a prosecution. For this reason there is no appeal mechanism against the service of a fixed penalty notice; the ‘appeal’ is by way of challenging the allegation in court and exercising the right to be tried.
It should be noted that the financial penalty imposed by the courts could be significantly greater than that which is imposed through a fixed penalty notice. The prosecution will ask for an order for you to pay its costs and you will be liable to pay the court’s surcharge.
I don’t see why I should pay if there are no signs
There is of course no obligation on the Council to provide “warning” signage regarding littering or other criminal offences that apply throughout the country, or to announce the presence of enforcement officers or police.
There are signs however relating to controls under public spaces protection orders where these apply. The Council also has posters about litter on many bins and signs about dog fouling on many lampposts.
In addition to our local publicity, national campaigns have also been run. Keep Britain Tidy has a long history of promoting the abatement of litter through publicity and high-visibility advertising. Other organisations and landowners use signage to ask people not to leave litter.
The packaging to many items, such as confectionary and soft drinks, have either images or text asking people to use a litter bin or recycle when they have finished with the contents. The Tidyman icon has been found on product packaging since the 1950s.
Litter legislation has been in force for many years and is enforced. Laws dating back several hundred years have made littering a criminal offence.
Why should I pay a fixed penalty notice when there were no litter bins nearby?
As with signage it is not feasible for the Council to place litter bins in every street, road or highway, though every effort is made to place bins where they are most needed and where the greatest level of pedestrian footfall.
Where bins are not available then it is up to everyone to act responsibly and make arrangements to either take their litter home or carry it until a litter bin is available.
What is classed as "litter"?
The term "litter" covers a wide range of items, which can include such things as cigarette butts, food waste, drink cans, sweet wrappers, packaging or a bag of waste discarded on the street.
Littering can take place on any land (public or private) in the open air.
It is a criminal offence that carries a fine of up to £2,500.
Is dropping a cigarette butt or chewing gum classed as "littering"?
Yes, litter such as cigarette butts and chewing gum are classed as litter. They are expensive and time-consuming to clean up. Cigarette butts can take up to 12 years to degrade.
The law was amended in 2005 to specifically include "the discarded ends of cigarettes, cigars and like products, and discarded chewing-gum and the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing.”
I could not place my cigarette stub in the litter bin as it could have caught on fire but I was still issued with a fixed penalty notice. Is this fair?
Smokers are responsible for ensuring that they completely extinguish their cigarettes before placing them in a bin. Cigarette waste is the same as any other waste in terms of litter laws and you can be issued with a fixed penalty notice for not disposing of cigarette ends properly. Obviously care should be taken to avoid any risk of fire and in particular cigarette ends should be completely extinguished in the ashtray or on the stubbing plates provided on many litter bins.
There is also no reason why smokers (who are well aware that smoking will result in waste) cannot carry portable "butt bins" with them or create their own by placing soil or sand in a small tin.
But I put my cigarette stub in a drain
Cigarette butts don’t disappear by disposing of them in a drain; you are still littering and causing additional problems. Cigarettes can block drains and cause pollution to waterways and the sea. Cigarette litter can also pose a hazard to animals and marine life when they mistake filters for food. The law applies to drains.
If I pick up the litter after an officer has approached me, do I still receive a fixed penalty notice?
Littering relates to the dropping, throwing or depositing of litter and the leaving of it. Whether or not you later volunteer to pick up that litter, you have still committed an offence if you originally walked away.
What is the offence of dog fouling?
It is an offence not to clean up after your dog as soon as it has happened, on any land which is open to the air and to which the public are permitted to have access.
It is not a defence to say:
I am coming back to pick the faeces up later
I didn't see my dog foul
I haven't got a bag with me.
But I wasn’t given any warning about the offence
Litter legislation and controls on dogs have been in force for many years. Laws on litter date back at least 300 years. Over the past two decades significant amounts of money have been spent both nationally and locally on educational and awareness raising campaigns. Such publicity has included posters, advertising and articles in the press, and adverts on the radio, TV and on transport systems. On top of this organisations like Keep Britain Tidy run national campaigns.
Therefore we take our enforcement duties seriously and back up what is an important message with action. This is the aim of our enforcement patrols which seek to target those who choose to ignore the laws which the vast majority abide by.
Environmental quality issues and offences such as littering and dog fouling have consistently been highlighted by residents as areas of concern.
Can I pay my fixed penalty by instalments?
No, you cannot pay the fixed penalty in instalments. However, if there are particular circumstances you wish us to consider, we may extend the time period by which you can pay the fixed penalty in full and avoid prosecution. If you experiencing difficulty paying, please explain in writing and provide supporting evidence.
What if I have difficulty paying the fixed penalty?
If you have difficulty paying the fine you should contact the address on the notice in writing and provide supporting evidence. Alternatively speak to an advice service.
What happens to the money you get from fixed penalties?
Paid fixed penalties fund the functions to which the fixed penalty notice relates, so a paid litter penalty pays for litter enforcement. The use of the fixed penalty receipts is covered by legislation which defines what the "qualifying functions" are.
Fines are paid to the HM Courts & Tribunals Service and not to the Council.
Are the enforcement officers paid commission for issuing FPNs?
The officers in Newcastle are not on commission and are salaried. Some of the issues and incidents they deal with do not result in a fixed penalty notice or are offences for which the option of a fixed penalty notice is not available.
Fixed penalty notices are issued by officers directly employed by the Council or by police officers and support officers.
Fines are paid to the HM Courts & Tribunals Service and not to the Council.
Did you know?
If you receive a fixed penalty notice, you have the option to either:
- pay the fixed penalty, or
- have your case heard in a court
You cannot appeal against the notice.
A fine is a penalty issued by a court following a conviction.