Unpaid fines may stop people leaving UK

· Home Office plan outlined in ‘e-borders’ scheme
· Huge amounts of data likely to be produced

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Monday August 6, 2007
The Guardian

Tens of thousands of people who have failed to pay court fines amounting to more than £487m would be banned from leaving the country under new powers outlined by the Home Office. Ministers are also looking at ways of using the new £1.2bn “e-borders” programme to collect more than £9m owed in health treatment charges by foreign nationals who have left the country without paying.The programme, to be phased in from October next year, will also allow the creation of a centralised “no-fly” list of air-rage or disruptive passengers which can be circulated to airlines.

The e-borders programme requires airlines and ferry companies to submit up to 50 items of data on each passenger between 24 and 48 hours before departure to and from the UK. With 200 million passenger movements in and out of the UK last year to and from 266 overseas airports on 169 airlines, an enormous amount of data is expected to be generated by the programme.

Passenger numbers are expected to rise to 305 million a year by 2015 and ministers claim the £1.2bn programme is the only way to provide a comprehensive record of all those seeking to enter and leave the UK. The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, claims that the programme will create a kind of border control, with information being passed to police and security services before passengers board a plane, boat or train: “It will create a new, offshore line of defence – helping genuine travellers, but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel.”

However, the long-term nature of the programme means that by 2009 only half the passenger movements in and out of Britain will be logged in the e-borders computers, and even by 2011 coverage will have reached only 95%.

A Home Office assessment of the secondary legislation that is being used to implement the programme gives some early indications of who, other than suspected terrorists and international criminals, will be on the British no-fly list and be banned from travelling to and from the country. It floats the idea that provisions should be introduced to ban travel overseas for the tens of thousands of offenders who have not paid outstanding court fines or failed to discharge confiscation orders made against them. Although no official estimate exists of the number of people who have to pay court fines the amount they owe has now reached a record £487m, with a further £300m in unpaid confiscation orders.

Passengers will be further encouraged in future to book their tickets and check in online. Other suggested benefits of the e-borders programme include easier identification of those who falsely claim non-domicile or non-resident status to avoid UK income tax, thought to be costing as much as £2bn a year, and those who wrongly claim social security benefits despite having left the country.