Mum fears she'll be left with criminal record for taking two kids on holiday during school term time
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A mum fears she’ll be left with a ‘barbaric’ criminal record after taking her kids on holiday during school term time, following a mix-up with her fine.
Before they left, she’d accepted that her children's time off school would be marked as an unauthorised absence, which would result in a £60 fine for each of them upon returning.
However, she claims she only received a penalty notice for her daughter and was never issued one for her son.
Lisa didn’t chase up Hunter's fine with the school or local authority, as she believed he must’ve not received one because his attendance was higher than Pandora’s.
Fast forward to 20 October, when she was horrified to receive a 'single justice procedure notice' from North Northamptonshire Council, notifying her that she was being charged under the Section 444 (1) of the Education Act 1996.
Lisa claims she is now facing a potential criminal conviction, with Section 444 (1) of the Education Act 1996 stating that if a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at school, their parent is guilty of an offence.
Anyone charged with that offence has to prove they had a 'reasonable justification' for their child's failure to attend regularly at the school.
Lisa, from Kettering in Northamptonshire, said: "This is the first time I have taken my children out of school for a holiday and I assumed that because my daughter's [overall] attendance was worse than my son's, [that's why] I was fined for her [and not him].
"I didn't think that his fine could have just gone missing in the post.
"I have already paid a fine for one of my children.
"I strongly disagree that parents should be criminalised for something so trivial, especially when I didn't receive the fine letter [for my son] in the first place.
"I don't understand how I can be a criminal for one child and not the other.”
Lisa said she’s been trying to contact North Northamptonshire Council since 20 October, but ‘no one has responded’.
"I have asked to pay the fine for my son and have even looked online to see if I can find the council's bank statement so I can transfer the money before I go to court,” she said.
"No one at the council has been helpful. I don't think it's fair that they can send me a [fine] letter in the post on not recorded delivery but then when I don't receive it [they] issue a criminal charge, as this can have serious consequences.
"It's almost as if they're trying to catch me out."
The mum-of-two – who was given until 4 November to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge – says being convicted would have a detrimental effect on her career and financial situation.
She claims North Northamptonshire Council also never chased up the payment and if they had done so, she would have paid the £60 fee two days later like she did with her daughter's, believing the original charge must have been ‘lost’.
Lisa doesn’t place any blame on her children’s school as she knew taking Pandora and Hunter on holiday during term time would be classed as an unauthorised absence and was happy to pay the fine.
"This is nothing against the school at all,” she said.
“I have no issues with them. This is the local authority's error that I didn't receive the fine.
"I knew I was going to receive a fine for taking the children out of school during term time and I was happy to pay this."
Lisa decided to take her kids out of school for the holiday as it was cheaper, and she also believed they would educationally benefit from the trip.
"Everything is a risk and reward,” she said.
But she now feels ‘confused’ about whether she is facing a criminal conviction because she didn't pay her son's penalty charge or because he failed to attend school regularly during this period of time.
Lisa continued: "If I enter a guilty plea we don't need to go to court and then this comes with an automatic criminal record, regardless of the sentence. This is what I want to avoid.
"But if I plead not guilty, I could go to court and explain the situation and want to pay the fine but then they could still find me guilty and would still receive the criminal record.
"I don't think it's in the public interest for it to go to court.
"As a landlord, it is definitely not in my tenants' interest to go to court as I could potentially have to issue 12 S21 eviction notices as I may no longer be able to do my job.
"I've got until November 4th until I have to enter a plea and it goes to court. The whole process is barbaric."
After being contacted by journalists, North Northamptonshire Council finally agreed it would reissue the fine - meaning Lisa now has 28 days to pay it before facing a criminal record again.
A spokesperson from North Northamptonshire Council said: "We have been made aware of some postal issues recently and as such, offering the benefit of the doubt and in order to seek a satisfactory resolution for all parties, the local authority has contacted the court and requested the matter be withdrawn from hearing to enable payment of the original penalty notice. We apologise for any distress caused.
"We have agreed to reissue the fixed penalty notice via post, with a copy via email, allowing the full 28 days to pay as afforded originally."