Lockdown fines will rise to £100 in England from Wednesday as the Government warned it was considering tougher enforcement measures for anyone flouting the rules.
People believed to be breaching restrictions on movement amid the coronavirus outbreak will have their first fine lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days, but fines will double for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of £3,200.
Existing legislation known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 will be updated from Wednesday to reflect the changes.
The news comes as a 50-page document published by the Government setting out its Covid-19 recovery strategy for England said it was “examining more stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance”.
Setting out limited changes to some rules from Wednesday, the paper said the higher fines “reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as people are returning to work and school”.
But some MPs and police chiefs raised concerns and one lawyer warned the unclear directions to officers and the public could be a “recipe for disaster”.
The new guidance says people will be able to:
– Exercise outside as many times a day as they want – although a limit on the number of exercise sessions has never been enforced by law in England
– Spend time outdoors, other than for exercise, as long as they are not meeting more than one person from outside their household, while observing social distancing measures by keeping two metres apart, and continuing to wash their hands regularly
– Drive to outdoor open spaces “irrespective of distance” as long as they observe social distancing rules when there, and do not travel over borders to other parts of the UK where rules are different. Previously, the public were urged not to travel long distances to visit beaches, countryside and beauty spots
Little other detail was provided on how stricter enforcement other than higher fines would be imposed.
No other specific examples of when members of the public would be considered to be flouting the rules, and therefore liable for fines, were provided in the document, but it added: “The Government will seek to make clearer to the public what is and is not allowed.”
Andrew Slattery, Assistant Chief Constable of Cumbria Police, said he expected his force to “have a very difficult weekend” in light of the changes.
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the lack of clarity will make the job for police “much, much harder” and she was “particularly concerned” at the increase in fines, adding: “The Government should first ensure that enforcement can be accurately and effectively done.”
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file police officers, told the PA news agency: “There is a desperate need for crystal clear clarity on what is and isn’t allowed.”
Raj Chada, head of the criminal defence department and a partner at firm Hodge Jones & Allen described the guidance as a “mish mash” which was “completely unclear”, telling PA the difference in rules in different areas of the country was a “recipe for disaster”.
He also questioned whether the ambiguous directions complied with human rights laws.
Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Monday afternoon he had “huge admiration” for the police approach and urged the public to use “common sense”.
Admitting that as its requests become more complex “the harder it is for people to comply with the measures”, the Government has pledged to invest in public health education to make sure everyone understands the rules.
Lockdown fines remain unchanged in Scotland after the Holyrood government said it found no evidence to suggest an increase was required because the number of fixed penalty notices there was “proportionately lower than in England”.
This means people found to be flouting lockdown rules for the first time in Scotland will still be fined £30 by police, rising to £60 if not paid within 28 days. Cumulative fines for repeat offenders will stay capped at £960.
The governments in Wales and Northern Ireland have confirmed fines will stay the same for now – £60 reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days, rising to £120 for a second and subsequent offences.