Police chiefs in England and Wales have temporarily suspended £10,000 fixed penalties for breaches of Covid rules on gatherings of more than 30 people.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) said forces should instead issue court summons to rulebreakers.
It comes amid concerns over a potential disparity between the amount being paid by some upfront, compared to those who challenge the fees in court.
The Home Office said it was working with police forces on the issue.
It is expected that police forces will resume issuing the fines for organisers of large gatherings “where appropriate” from Wednesday.
In a statement, a government spokesman said: “It is right that we have a strong deterrent. We are working with forces to ensure people are fully aware of their options when faced with a fixed penalty notice (FPN).
“If someone chooses not to pay their FPN, the matter may be considered by a court and the individual could be subject to a criminal conviction.”
A spokesman for the NPCC said it had advised all forces to “temporarily” issue court summons to rulebreakers, rather than issuing a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £10,000 – for offences relating to gatherings of more than 30 people under Covid regulations.
“We gave this advice because of a potential disparity between those who opt to pay the FPN and those who see their case reach the court where the FPN would be means tested against personal income,” the spokesman said.
“We are working with government to urgently address this matter, and once rectified, we intend to advise that forces resume issuing £10,000 FPNs wherever appropriate.”
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has asked ministers for “urgent clarity” over the NPCC’s latest advice, and accused the government of failing to provide the police with “workable Covid legislation”.
In a letter to the policing minister Kit Malthouse, Labour’s Mr Jamieson said: “I feel thoroughly embarrassed that I have been personally supporting the government’s actions, which, at best, are questionable.”
Meanwhile, Nottinghamshire’s Labour police and crime commissioner, Paddy Tipping, said he was “surprised at the guidance from the NPCC”, having received a written commendation from Home Secretary Priti Patel for being the first force to issue a super-fine.
Explaining the decision at a meeting of the West Midlands strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday, the force’s chief constable David Thompson called it “unfortunate” while adding alleged rule-breakers would get a court summons instead.
West Midlands Police has already issued 13 of the fines, reserved for the most serious social-distancing breaches.
Mr Thompson, who is also a vice-chairman of the NPCC and its lead on finance matters, said: “It is unhelpful this issue has arisen, but actually there is still legislation.
“The point I would make to the public is we will carry on enforcing this area of the law.
“The difference is it won’t be a ticket, it will be through a summons.”
Coronavirus restrictions vary in each of the UK’s four nations.
A new lockdown is in force in England, and Wales has now ended a short “circuit breaker” lockdown, but still has some restrictions in place.
Elsewhere, Scotland has moved to a five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions, while Northern Ireland has extended its own temporary lockdown.