Criminal Compensation Orders Must Be Affordable – Court of Appeal Ruling


Fraud perpetrated against elderly victims is a particularly mean offence. However, as a Court of Appeal ruling made plain, compensation orders issued against offenders must in every case take realistic account of their ability to pay within a reasonable period of time.

The case concerned a young woman who preyed on her step-grandmother, using her bank card details to make various online purchases, from the mundane to the luxurious. After she pleaded guilty to fraud, she received a suspended two-year jail term and was ordered to perform unpaid work and rehabilitation activities.

The judge also ordered her to pay compensation of £12,261 to her victim, by instalments of £25 a month. Challenging that order as manifestly excessive, she argued that, at that rate, it would take her 40 years to pay the sum due. Entirely dependent on benefits, she has very limited means and has three dependant children, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder.

Upholding her appeal, the Court noted that it is well established that a compensation order should not be made unless it is realistic, in the sense that the offender has, or will have, the means to discharge it within a reasonable time. A repayment period of two to three years is generally regarded as towards the top end of the scale. There was no prospect of any meaningful sum being raised by selling goods that she had fraudulently purchased.

The Court noted that the making of the compensation order was probably one of the reasons why she narrowly avoided an immediate custodial sentence. Given the facts of the case, she should be made to feel at least part of the loss that she caused to her vulnerable relative. The Court substituted a compensation order in the sum of £900, payable by instalments of £25 a month over the course of three years.

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