Penalty notices: unauthorised absences from school

Section 23 of the The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced additional powers under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 authorising the Council to issue penalty notices where parents and/or carers are considered capable of, but unwilling to ensure their child’s school attendance.

Penalty notices are part of a range of enforcement measures to tackle poor school attendance.

Under current legislation, parents/carers commit an offence if their child fails to attend school regularly and the absences are unauthorised.

Depending on the circumstances, parents/carers may be prosecuted in the local Magistrates Court, in accordance with the provisions of Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

A penalty notice aims to quickly improve a child’s attendance at school and is an alternative to prosecution. Parents/carers do not need to go to court unless they do not pay the penalty within 28 days.

Full payment of the penalty means parents/ carers are no longer liable to conviction i.e. it should be the end of the matter. It also prevents them from acquiring a criminal record, unless further offences are committed.

Penalty notices may be used in a range of situations where unauthorised absence occurs, such as:

  • inappropriate absences that parents have allowed
  • unapproved leave of absence taken in term-time or delayed return from an authorised leave of absence without obtaining advance permission from the school
  • persistent late arrival at school after closure of registers
  • when the parents of a formally excluded pupil fail in their duty to ensure that he/ she is not in a public place during school hours (without reasonable justification).

In every case, a pupil will have lost a minimum of 10 morning or afternoon school sessions (equals five school days in total) to unauthorised absence during the current term or 14 school sessions over two consecutive terms.

The Council would far rather work with parents/carers to improve attendance without having to enforce such actions. However, school attendance is of such importance that the Authority will use these powers when appropriate to do so.

Warning of a penalty notice

A parent/carer may sometimes receive a written warning of the possibility of a penalty notice being issued. This will give you a period of time to improve his/ her attendance. During this period, the child must have no further unauthorised absences from school. If he/she is ill during that time, medical evidence must be provided.

There is no limit to the number of times a formal warning of a possible penalty notice can be issued in any particular case, but it’s highly unlikely that a parent/carer will receive more than three warnings per child in any one year before further action
is taken.

There is no statutory right of appeal once a notice has been issued, but if you receive a formal written warning, you can write or speak to the Local Authority about your situation should you wish.

Costs

Penalty notices are issued by post to your home. If you pay within 21 days of receiving a penalty notice you pay a £60 fine. The fine is £120 if you pay after 21 days but within 28 days.

Payments

Details of payment arrangements will be included with the penalty notice. You cannot pay part of a penalty notice or pay it in instalments. The Government say it must be paid in full and your ability to pay is not something which the law allows us to consider.

You have up to 28 days from receiving the penalty notice to pay it in full. If you don’t, the Local Authority is required to start legal proceedings against you in the local Magistrates Court. These proceedings will be for the original offence of failing to ensure your child attends school regularly.

If the case against you is proven, the Magistrates can fine you up to a maximum of
£2,500 and/or jail you for up to 51 weeks. Magistrates can also make Parenting Orders, Community Orders and Education Supervision Orders, depending upon individual circumstances.

Following payment of the penalty notice

Parents/carers are not liable for prosecution for their child’s school attendance once the penalty notice is paid. However, prosecution may be considered for further periods of poor attendance not covered by the notice, depending upon the circumstances. If this is an ongoing issue, it is vital that parents/carers work closely with their child’s school and the Local Authority’s Inclusion Team.