Motorists face £15 hike in penalty charges

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The Independent Online

Motorists face a £15 hike in punishments for driving offences to fund a government scheme for compensating victims of crime, it was revealed today.



The surcharge has been added to fines for those convicted of crime in court since 2007, with the cash going to finance support services.



But ministers now want to extend the levy to on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices.



This would include motorists caught speeding, using a mobile phone while driving, not wearing a seatbelt, or given a parking ticket. People found scrawling graffiti or being drunk and disorderly would also be hit.



Under the plans, the current fine of £60 for speeding would be increased to £75.



Campaigning group the TaxPayers' Alliance said the move amounted to a "stealth tax".



Spokesman Matthew Elliott said: "If the Treasury wants to raise money from the courts, it should be more honest and call this surcharge a 'justice tax'.



"By calling it a 'victims' surcharge' and applying it to minor motoring offences and parking tickets where there are clearly no victims, the Government is making a mockery of the tax system. This is clearly another stealth tax designed to plug Britain's huge debt."



In a parliamentary answer slipped out just before Christmas, justice minister Claire Ward said: "The victim surcharge was introduced on April 1, 2007 and has been applied initially only to fines imposed in magistrates and Crown courts at a rate of £15.



"We intend to add the surcharge to other disposals as soon as it becomes feasible to do so.



"Proceeds raised from the surcharge provide a ring-fenced source of funding for a wide variety of organisations providing non-financial support to victims and witnesses of crime."



Between April 2008 and last January the scheme raised more than £6.6 million.



A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "It is Government policy that, where possible, offenders should contribute to victims and victims' services as part of their reparation.



"The Government spends over £360 million a year supporting and compensating victims. It is right that offenders should contribute towards providing these services."

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "You will have a hard job convincing motorists this is anything other than a stealth tax to shore up a creaking system strapped for cash.



"Motorists need to obey the rules of the road but they also have to believe what they get penalised for committing relatively minor offences is fair, and not just some arbitrary figure."



"If these offences have serious consequences then drivers will find themselves in court where a proportionate compensation figure can be set. More generally, if money needs to be set aside for victims then this should be coming out of the existing charges."



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