Council fine 500 parents for pupil absences

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

More than 500 parents were hit with fines by Wigan Council last year for repeatedly failing to send their children to school.

Figures released following a Freedom of Information request have revealed that in the last financial year the town hall received £11,940 from fines handed out to the borough’s parents.

In total 537 parents received the standard penalty notice of £60, with 83 of those receiving a £120 fine.

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But despite the large number distributed, only £9,900 was collected from £60 notices, which is less than a third of the £32,220 which should have been paid by parents of absent child.

Shockingly, more than 60 people were taken to court for repeatedly offending or refusing to pay their notice, but none of these costs is collected by Wigan Council.

Alan Lindsay, the authority’s assistant director for education, said: “Wigan Council works in partnership with all of our schools supporting pupils to engage in their education.

“For the relatively small number of pupils that are frequently absent from school, Wigan Council follows a similar process to all other local authorities where parents may need to appear in court.”

The procedure followed in Wigan and Leigh means that parents are not immediately punished for their child’s unauthorised absences, but legal action can be taken if attendance does not improve.

The first port of call for persistently absent children is to send a notice letter to the legal guardian, who is given 15 days to make sure their child goes to school.

If this has no impact, however, then a £60 fine is usually issued- which is increased to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.

Following that if a fine is ignored, Wigan Council will take any offenders to court.

Mr Lindsay added: “Wigan Council does not currently issue immediate fines for holidays in term time, we instead issue an initial warning which may be followed by a fine, if there is a further absence during a specified period.

The money generated through fines is used to support the funding of the administration of the system as it is only a small amount.

But there are defences which can stand up in the face of a child’s long-term absence.

For example, parents/guardians are able to challenge the notice if they can prove that their child has been ill or could not go to school due to an emergency, if they live over a certain distance and they have not been able to get a place at a closer school or received any help with transport, if the child missed school due to religious reasons or if the child has an authorised absence.