Calls for Covid fine 'amnesty' as thousands remain unpaid

Some people owe upwards of £10,000 in lockdown fines but lawyers have called for an amnesty on the charges, ITV News' Paul Brand and Nathan Lee report

Lawyers are calling for an amnesty on lockdown fines, as figures obtained by ITV News reveal that tens of thousands remain unpaid.

In total, 124,771 fines had been issued up to October of this year for violation of pandemic rules.

But almost half - 54,122 - were not paid, totalling £16.7 million in fines.

Some individuals owe more than £10,000, with their cases pursued through the courts and via bailiffs.

In Manchester, we met Xen Watts, who was a student at Leeds University during the pandemic.

He posted on Facebook inviting people to a 'socially distanced' snowball fight, which was captured on video and shared on social media.

Xen was fined £10,000 but says he has been unable to pay.

"For the last few years it's just been a constant stress on my mental health, which is getting worse because the threats and the pressure to pay is getting worse," he said.

The vast majority of Covid fines were issued to young people, with students and ethnic minorities disproportionately affected.

Two days before we interviewed Xen, bailiffs had visited his home.

"I would rather the first thing on my mind not be 'is someone going to take my things or imprison me?' it's not a nice thing to think," he said.

While Xen is left owing thousands of pounds, there is anger at the comparison with Downing Street, where those embroiled in partygate were fined just £50.

In Welwyn Garden City, Toriano Reid was fined £14,300 for a mistake made by someone else he was living with.

'I could work until I was blue in the face and it still wouldn't be enough,' Toriano Reid told ITV News

He had been working at the local supermarket and was not at the illegal gathering held in his garden, but because the house was in Toriano's name he was the recipient of the fine.

Bailiffs have continued to chase him for the money, and even recently clamped his car.

Almost four years on Toriano has lost his family home, his partner and at times even his will to live.

"I didn't know where to get the money, I work like everyone else. I've got no savings. I genuinely don't know what to do," he said.

"I could work until I was blue in the face and it still wouldn't be enough," he added.

Toriano has set up a crowd funding page to help him pay the fine.

Lawyer Kirsty Brimelow, who represents people who are fighting their Covid fines in court, has called for amnesty to be granted to those charged during lockdown

Lawyer Kirsty Brimelow represents people who are fighting their Covid fines in court.

She told ITV News there should be an amnesty on fines, almost four years on from the outset of the pandemic.

"They were extraordinary times, and those fixed penalty notices were undoubtedly thought to be the right thing to bring into force at the time," Ms Brimelow said.

"But hopefully with the benefit of hindsight we can see how disproportionate they were and that now they really should be rescinded, and people should have that debt and fine hanging over them lifted.

"They should be rescinded. It is too much for people to pay, there's a lot of economical hardship at the moment and these FPN's should not be adding to that."

Earlier this year the Slovenian government became the first country to reimburse €1.7 million (£1.47 million) in Covid fines and expunge the offences from records.

A UK government spokesperson told ITV News: “The government’s priority during the Covid-19 pandemic was to keep the public safe. Fixed Penalty Notices were a strong deterrent for the small minority of people who broke Covid rules.

“FPNs were issued by a police force, and if there were concerns around penalties, individuals were entitled to make representations to the issuing force.”

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