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MPs call for ‘muddled and unfair’ Covid fines to be reviewed

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The fixed penalty notices which have been issued to people breaking Covid-19 laws are “muddled, discriminatory and unfair” and should be urgently reviewed, according to MPs.

A new report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a cross-party committee of MPs and peers, noted that more than 85,000 notices ‒ which can be for as much as £10,000 ‒ have been issued to those deemed to have broken restrictions since March last year.

However, it argued that significant numbers of notices are incorrectly issued, and are having a “concerning” disproportionate impact on different groups in society.

Changing the rules

The report pointed out that restrictions have changed at least 65 times since March 2020, which provides an obvious challenge to police having to uphold those rules. The MPs argued that “far more” needs to be done by the government and police to ensure they understand the regulations they are supposed to enforce, as well as undertaking a review to find out why so many incorrect notices are being issued.

The report added that it was “astonishing” that every single criminal charge brought under the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been brought incorrectly, given that the offences included in that legislation have not changed all. The MPs said there was “no reason” for such mistakes to still be happening.

Criminalising the poor over the well off

Harriet Harman, chair of the committee, said that it had been important from the outset for the government to ensure that rules were clear, enforcement was fair and that mistakes in the system could be rectified, yet none of that had happened with the Covid-19 fixed penalty notices.

She added: “Whether people feel the fixed penalty notice is deserved or not, those who can afford it are likely to pay a penalty to avoid criminality. Those who can’t afford to pay face a criminal record along with all the resulting consequences for their future development. The whole process disproportionately hits the less well-off and criminalises the poor over the better off.”

Harman continued: “With fixed penalties of up to £10,000 awarded irrespective of the individual’s financial circumstances, there is much at stake. The government needs to review the pandemic regulations and create new checks and balances to prevent errors and discrimination.”

The warnings follow findings from the TUC that Covid mortality rates are twice as high for those in ‘insecure’ jobs, while previous MP reports have suggested that the financial support measures in place are skewed towards men.  

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