West Sussex parents have paid more than £250,000 in fines for taking their children on holiday during term time.
Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests showed the county council issued 2,459 £60 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) in 2016/17. In addition, another 529 FPNs were issued for other unauthorised absences or truancy.
Any fines not paid within 21 days were doubled to £120, while a further 28 days of non-payment saw some parents taken to magistrates’ court under the Education Act 1996. The council brought 359 such prosecutions in 2016/17 – the fourth highest in the country. The fines amounted to £251,820.
A council spokesman said: “The use of both court action and/or FPNs to address unauthorised absence from school is not unique to West Sussex and we have widely advertised their use by us and our schools.
“All schools within WSCC are encouraged to outline the potential consequences of unauthorised absence and all referrals submitted to our offices are quality assured to check such information has been made available to the parent concerned.”
The 2016/17 figure was lower than the £271,220 of fines in 2015/16 but much higher than the £153,960 of fines from 2014/15.
The spokesman said the use of FPNs had increased year-on-year. She added that a reduction in 2015/16 could be attributed to uncertainty arising from the highly publicised Supreme Court Case of an Isle of Wight father who took his daughter to Disney World Florida.
The cost of holidays spikes once term time is over and, rather than fork out the extra – which could amount to thousands of pounds – some families opt to budget for a fine.
The spokesman said: “Whilst it may be said that the financial cost of a FPN is less than the premium applied to holidays available in school holiday time, it does not acknowledge the potential non-financial cost experienced by the child, in terms of their loss of education, socialisation etc.
“In addition, the local authority has a statutory function to ensure school attendance matters are addressed within the legislative framework.”
None of the money collected through fines is put into the education budget.
The spokesman said: “Revenue generated from the FPNs is used to cover the costs of issuing and enforcing notices, including the cost of prosecuting recipients who do not pay.”