How you could be fined £480 if your children miss school in Leeds

It's the same every year: you want to fly away with the kids to soak in a bit of sun, but all the prices during half terms and school holidays are eye-watering...

Unauthorised absences cost 60 per parent per absence per child
Unauthorised absences cost 60 per parent per absence per child

In a bid to stop parents from being tempted to take children out of school early, the government introduced fines for parents for taking children away for unauthorised absences in 2013, which are levied by local authorities such as Leeds Council.

Government legislation means that schools are not allowed to authorise requests for children to be taken out of school for a holiday during term time.

Requests for leave can only be granted by schools if there are exceptional circumstances, and holidays are not considered exceptional.

Requests for leave must also be made to the school in advance, as the Department for Education has told schools that they cannot authorise any absences after they have been taken.

A penalty notice is a fine to parents or carers if they fail to ensure that their child or children attend school regularly.

Leeds City Council is responsible for issuing penalty notices on behalf of schools in the city, based on national legislation.

Penalty fines are £120 per parent per child for each unauthorised period of absence, if not paid within 22-28 days, or £60 if paid within the timeframe.

So a family of two parents and two children, taking both children out for at least one unauthorised period of time would in theory pay £240 in fines in total if paid promptly, and £480 if not.

How it breaks down:

Parent 1 - child 1: £60

Parent 2 - child 1 + £60

Parent 1 - child 2 - + £60

Parent 2 - child 2 + £60

Total: £240

BUT, £60 is the fine if paid within 22-28 days. If unpaid within that time, the fine doubles to £120, so the total fine would be £480.

If you had three or four children, that holiday could start looking mighty expensive.

However, Leeds Council told the Yorkshire Evening Post that it does not trigger the fines until a child has had unauthorised absences of 5 days or more within any 12 week period.

A spokesman said: "A penalty notice is a fine issued to parents or carers if they fail to ensure that their child or children attend school regularly.

"This could be due to a holiday in term time or other periods of absence that are not authorised by their child’s school.

"Penalty notices give parents an opportunity to avoid prosecution. If a penalty notice is paid parents will not be prosecuted.

"The Education (Penalty Notices) Regulations 2007 set out the details of how the penalty notice scheme must operate.

"This includes a requirement that every local authority must draw up and publish a code of conduct for issuing penalty notices, after consulting all schools (including academies) and the police.

"The code sets out the criteria that will be used to trigger the issuing of a penalty notice.

"In Leeds we have determined that a penalty notice will be issued for unauthorised absences of 5 days or more within a 12 week period.

"This includes absences for holidays as well as other unauthorised absences.

"If a penalty notice is issued, it will be for the whole period of the absence. So the penalty would be the same for an absence of 5 days or 10 days.

"For example, a parent could be issued with a £60 penalty if their child misses 1 day of school each week over a 5 week period, whilst another parent might be issued the same penalty for a single 2 week absence.

"The penalty will increase to £120 if the notice is not paid within 21 working days. If it remains unpaid within a further 7 days consideration will be given to prosecution at the Magistrates’ Court which could lead to a criminal conviction."

If things get really serious, you could end up with a prosecution in court for unpaid fines.

You could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to 3 months. The court also gives you a Parenting Order.

This means you have to go to parenting classes. You’ll also have to do what the court says to improve your child’s school attendance.

The same figures apply in Bradford.

Bradford Council's guidance states: "If parents take their children out of school without first seeking the school’s permission or take their children out after permission has been denied, could receive a penalty notice fine of £60 per parent per child.

"A family of two parents and two children would receive a fine of £240.

"From 1 September 2013 parents have 21 days to pay the fine. If the fine is not paid within this period the fine doubles to £120 per parent per child and has to be paid within 7 days.

"Failure to pay the fine at all will result in Bradford Children’s Services taking the matter before the Magistrates Court where they could be fined up to £1,000"