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Serving a prison sentence

Key information

This section provides Information about entitlement to specific benefits if you are serving a prison sentence.

Applies to: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland




You can read through this information sheet, or go directly to the sections you want to read by clicking on these links:

Entitlement to benefits

Your entitlement to most benefits stops while serving a custodial sentence in prison as a result of a criminal conviction.

If you are claiming benefits and about to go into prison or you are on remand, you should contact the office that pays your benefit as soon as possible. The address and telephone details will be on any letters you have received from them. If you can, tell them the date of your likely imprisonment and the length of the sentence. This is to make sure that you are not overpaid any benefits that you are not entitled to while you are in prison.

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Means-tested benefits

You are not entitled in your own right or as part of someone else’s claim to:

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Non means-tested benefits

While you are in prison, you are not entitled to:

No-one else can receive an increase in any of these benefits for you while you are in prison.

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Housing costs

Most benefits stop while you are serving a prison sentence. However, you may still be entitled to the following benefits for up to 13 weeks if you're not likely to be away from your home for longer than 13 weeks and you plan to return home after your sentence:

If you want to claim Housing Benefit or Council Tax Support while you are in prison, you will need to tell the local authority about your change of circumstances.

In Scotland, you will need to tell the local council (link opens in a new window) directly about your change of circumstances.

In Northern Ireland, tell your local Housing Executive (link opens in a new window) 

If you are a homeowner you will not be able to receive help with housing costs paid as part of some means-tested benefits, because your entitlement to these benefits will stop.

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Social Fund

While in prison you are not usually entitled to payments from the Social Fund and will not meet the qualifying rules for Cold Weather Payments.

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Help with the costs of children

If your child is living with you or is born in prison, you are still entitled to Child Benefit. If someone else is looking after your child while you are in prison you can transfer Child Benefit to that person.

Child Tax Credit (CTC) will cease if you are no longer responsible for the child, unless the child is living with you in prison. If someone else is looking after your child, they will need to make their own claim.

If your child has no other living parent apart from you, the person looking after your child may be able to claim Guardian's Allowance.

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Benefits owed

Most benefits are paid in arrears, so when you enter prison you may be owed some benefits payments. You should inform the office that pays your benefit of your change of circumstances and request the arrears be paid to you in prison or sent to someone who is not in prison who is managing your money. 

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Prisoners in hospital

Prisoners in hospital are generally still regarded as prisoners and do not qualify for benefits. Prisoners suffering from a mental disorder are not automatically disqualified unless they are detained under section 45A or 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (link opens in a new window).

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National insurance

While you are in prison and not working or claiming benefits, your National insurance contributions will stop. This means that when you come to claim some benefits, like State Retirement Pension, you may not be entitled to the full amount. Some people choose to pay voluntary contributions to plug the gap, but you should seek advice to make sure it is worth doing this.

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Further information

Gov.UK information on benefits and prison (link opens in a new window)

Broadway logo

This information has been produced by Broadway. 

Last reviewed: 1 April 2013

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