NEWS - Police use of Fixed Penalty Notices under the Covid-19 regulations in Scotland: New data report highlights links with deprivation and inequality

A data report presented to the Scottish Policy Authority (SPA) shows that almost a third of all Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) were issued to people living in the top 10% most deprived communities of Scotland.  Moreover, FPNs were twelve times more likely to be issued to people living in the 10% most deprived parts of Scotland compared to those living in the 10% least deprived areas.

The report, authored by Professor Susan McVie, provides the first detailed analysis of police use of enforcement under the new temporary powers introduced by the Coronavirus Regulations to help stop the spread of the virus.

The report is one of a number of papers presented to the SPA by John Scott QC, Chair of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) set up to provide scrutiny around Police Scotland’s use of the temporary powers.

Professor McVie’s report, which covers all Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued in Scotland between 27th March and 31st May 2020, also found that:

  • There were 4,328 FPNs issued, meaning less than 0.1% of the Scottish population was affected.
  • Despite a sharp rise in the use of FPNs at the start of lockdown, this gradually reduced over time and they were rarely used by the start of Phase 1.
  • FPNs were most likely to be issued to men, young people, and people from White backgrounds.
  • The proportion of FPNs issued to people from BAME backgrounds and non-British nationals was slightly higher than population estimates.
  • Most people who received a FPN had already come to the attention of the police in the past.
  • FPNs were mainly issued for breaches of the Regulations that occurred in public places rather than indoors, although this varied across the country.
  • Most FPNs were issued in Greater Glasgow, but taking population size into account the highest rate of activity was in Argyll and West Dunbartonshire.
  • In some parts of Scotland the police had issued a large proportion of FPNs to people who had travelled longer than the 5 mile recommended distance.
  • The rate of FPNs issued in Scotland looks higher than that for England and Wales, but the data are not comparable.

According to Professor McVie: “The disparity in the likelihood of receiving an FPN for breaching the Coronavirus Regulations amongst those in the most and the least deprived communities of Scotland is startling. This report highlights the possibility that there may have been justice inequalities, in terms of who has been subject to enforcement and the drivers of their non-compliance.


This report provides the first comprehensive analysis of the use of FPNs by Police Scotland under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. The regulations, which were approved by the Scottish Parliament on 27th March 2020, gave police officers temporary powers to issue FPNs to anyone age 16 or over or, in extreme circumstances, arrest them for failing to comply.

The Regulations placed severe constraints on people’s freedom of movement during lockdown which meant that the police were given powers to issue financial penalties to people who were behaving in ways that, under normal circumstances, would have constituted normal law abiding behaviour. Whilst initially there was a large spike in the use of FPNs, evidence suggests there were very few repeat breaches. More than four out of five individuals issued with FPNs were already known to the police on the criminal history system. 

A strong theme of this report is the relationship between enforcement and deprivation. Whatever the reason, it demonstrates significant degree of inequality across the Scottish population based on where people live and the circumstances they find themselves in. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the issue of health inequalities, and there are forecasts of increasing economic and employment inequalities in the months and years ahead.

The data presented here suggest that the level of inequality may have been particularly pronounced for women compared to men, people in middle age rather than younger people or those in the oldest age groups, and those from White and African, Black or Caribbean backgrounds compared to those from other ethnic groups.

The data used in the report are at an aggregate level and explore patterns at a divisional level without identifying any individuals or personal data. It includes data from the Coronavirus Intervention (CVI) system which has been established by Police Scotland to collect information on police activity in relation to the pandemic.

Professor McVie will continue to support the work of the IAG and undertake further analysis of the individual people who received FPNs or the profile of those who were in receipt of more than one ticket. Further work will also be done to examine the ongoing profile of Police Scotland’s use of the temporary powers as lockdown progressed into each new phase of easing restrictions. These topics will be included in further reports to the SPA Board in September and October 2020.

The report and meeting proceedings can be found on the Scottish Police Authority website: Scottish Police Authority Meeting 19 August 2020.

BBC Scotland News - Coronavirus Police Scotland article 20 August 2020.

The Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research and Understanding Inequalities project are both funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and hosted at the University of Edinburgh.

This article was published on 19 Aug 2020