In the crown court, while a fine is not the most common punishment meted out, when they are imposed they tend to be very large.
Do I have to pay the fine all at once?
Sometimes a court will order full payment (and may give a period of time for this to be completed), but in many cases, the court can order that you pay in instalments, usually weekly or monthly.
You will not be given time to pay (and therefore may be sent to prison forthwith if a fine isn’t paid) if:
(a) in the case of an offence punishable by imprisonment, you appear to the judge to have sufficient means to pay forthwith;
(b) it appears to the judge that you are unlikely to remain long enough at a place of abode in the UK to enable the payment of the fine to be enforced by other methods; or
(c) on the occasion when the fine is imposed, the judge sentences you to an immediate prison sentence, custody for life, or detention in a young offender institution for that or another offence, or so sentences you for an offence in addition to forfeiting his recognisance, or you are already serving a sentence of custody for life or a term of imprisonment or detention.
Setting a default period
Section 139 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 requires a court to fix a period of imprisonment in default.
Imprisonment in default is an extra term of imprisonment that you might receive if a fine is not paid:
"...the purpose of ordering a sentence of imprisonment in default is designed to ensure, so far as possible, that the defendant found to have realisable assets in the amount [...] ordered, should pay that amount and should obtain no advantage by refusing to do so. That authority stems not only from previous cases but also from the statutory provisions themselves." (R v Smith  EWCA Crim 344).
The maximum term is dependent on the size of the fine imposed:
An amount not exceeding £200
An amount exceeding £200 but not exceeding £500
An amount exceeding £500 but not exceeding £1,000
An amount exceeding £1,000 but not exceeding £2,500
An amount exceeding £2,500 but not exceeding £5,000
An amount exceeding £5,000 but not exceeding £10,000
An amount exceeding £10,000 but not exceeding £20,000
An amount exceeding £20,000 but not exceeding £50,000
An amount exceeding £50,000 but not exceeding £100,000
An amount exceeding £100,000 but not exceeding £250,000
An amount exceeding £250,000 but not exceeding £1 million
An amount exceeding £1 million
Will a court always set the maximum term in default?
The period in default will depend on the amount of fine and where it falls within the banding. So, a fine of £55,000 would probably attract a default period nearer 18 months than two years. But this is not an arithmetical exercise.
What happens if I do not pay?
If you wilfully refuse to pay the fine, and all other enforcement options have been exhausted, you will be ordered to serve the default term in prison.
It is therefore very important that you make contact with your solicitor if your financial circumstances change and you are unable to pay a financial penalty. It is always better to try and resolve difficulties earlier than wait for enforcement proceedings to commence.
I would sooner serve the time than pay the fine, is that possible?
Yes, and no!
If you do not pay, then you will go to prison.
However, this does not extinguish the penalty; if the authorities later find that you have the means to pay the fine, action can still be taken to recover the monies.
How we can assist
The law concerning non-payment of fines and other financial penalties is complicated. This article is intended to give only a very brief overview of the issues involved.