Retailers have called for an urgent review of the government's policy of handing out fixed penalty notices to shoplifters after it emerged fewer than half were actually being paid.

The Association of Convenience Stores wrote to Home Office minister Vernon Coaker this week after the Ministry of Justice revealed that during 2006 the number of fixed penalty notices had risen by 75% but only 42% had been paid.

The figures showed 38,772 fixed penalty notices were issued for shoplifting offences last year , up from 21,997 in 2005. Of these, only 16,169 were paid in full, but just 392 potential prosecutions ar ose as a result of non-payment.

"It is increasingly obvious that fixed penalty notices do not deter thieves," said ACS chief executive James Lowman. "The fact that fewer than half pay the fines and only 3% of non-payers faced a prosecution means retailers can have little faith in the system. They need to be reassured that government and police take shop theft seriously."

Police forces were ignoring official guidance that they should only issue notices to first-time offenders, said Lowman.

And they were not following advice that victims should be consulted over whether they thought a fine was appropriate.

n The Sentencing Advisory Panel is expected to publish new draft guidelines on ­sentencing for shop theft next month.