Fines for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules could be increased to £100 for a first offence and soar to £3,200 for serial offenders, under proposals being considered by ministers.
It is hoped doubling the fine each time a person who repeatedly flouts rules to stay at home will give police greater powers to punish those ignoring warnings they could be spreading the coronavirus and putting lives at risk as well as stretching NHS resources.
The move comes after it emerged a hard core of people breaking the lockdown rules resulted in 400 fixed penalty notices being handed out by police to repeat offenders in the four weeks to April 27 in England and Wales. One person was even fined six times.
Police have been issuing fixed penalties at a rate one of every five minutes to those breaking rules. More than 9,000 fines were issued throughout England and Wales during the same four week period.
The problem with breaching stay at home rules was illustrated starkly yesterday in London when a group of protesters opposed to the lockdown began hugging outside New Scotland Yard in Westminster. One of the placards among the handful of demonstrators read ‘My body. My Choice. We do not consent.”
Police encourage the group to go home, however one man was arrested for failing to comply with the request and assault on an officer.
It is also hoped the near doubling of the first fine from £60 to £100 will help combat the increasing likelihood more people will be tempted to try to breach the rules as good weather moves in for the summer months.
The possible toughening of the enforcement regime would see fines start at £100 and double for a repeat offence. Consequently a second offence would mean a £200 fine, a third £400, a fourth £800, then £1,600 and finally a sixth offence would cost £3,200. It would mean the offender would end up £6,300 out of pocket.
Anyone who fails to pay the fine can be jailed. Police are expected to also have power to arrest serial offenders who breach the social distancing rules and endanger public health.
A Whitehall source said: “In the next phase of our fight against coronavirus some of the social distancing measures will be relaxed, others will be toughened up.
“Hand in hand with the new rules will come tougher enforcement powers for the police to crack down on the small minority who break the rules – and stop them putting everyone else at greater risk.”
However, it is understood there are no plans yet to relax the current social distancing rules, with the Government insisting the lockdown will not be lifted until its five key tests have been met.
The source added: “We are hugely grateful for the vast majority of people who have followed the detailed guidance, and stayed at home.”
He added that when the rules are changed it will be even more “critical” that people adhere to them to keep the R value – the number of people someone with Covid-19 infects – under one to avoid a dangerous second peak.
“We will send a clear signal to the small minority of those breaching the rules that they will not get away with it by increasing the starting point for fines to £100,” he said.
A senior government source said: “Thanks to the enormous sacrifices of the British people we have succeeded in protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed.
“The vast majority of people have followed the rules, but in the next phase of our fight it will be even more critical that a small minority of rule-breakers do not put the rest of us at risk.
“That is why we will give the police tougher powers to stamp down hard on rule-breakers.”