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Prisoners serving a sentence

Check how to manage your benefits if you're a prisoner serving a sentence

1. Introduction

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're claiming Universal Credit, write on your journal or call the helpline. 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.

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. 

Reviewed: April 2022

2. Benefits you can't get - Serving a sentence

3. Help with housing costs - Serving a sentence

Most benefits stop while you are serving a prison sentence. However, you may still be entitled to help with housing costs for a limited amount of time.

You may receive the housing costs element of Universal Credit for up to 6 months when you are in prison. You will only be paid after you have been sentenced if the total amount of time spent in prison (including time on remand) will not be more than 6 months. 

You may 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:

Scotland

In Scotland, you will need to tell the local council directly about your change of circumstances.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, tell your local Housing Executive.

Support for Mortgage Interest

If you were getting Support for Mortgage Interest and Universal Credit before going to prison, you can carry on getting Support for Mortgage Interest for up to six months, as long as you aren't expected to be away from your home for more than six months.

If you were getting Support for Mortgage Interest and a benefit other than Universal Credit before going to prison, you can carry on getting Support for Mortgage for up to 52 weeks as long as you aren't expected to be away from home for more than 52 weeks, and you intend to return home, and you do not sublet your home while you are away.

 

Reviewed: April 2022

4. Child benefits - Serving a sentence

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 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. They won't be able to make a new claim for Child Tax Credit if they aren't already getting it for other children. They should use our Benefit Calculator to see if they would be better off making a claim for Universal Credit.

You will not be able to get the child element of Universal Credit while you are 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.

5. In hospital - Serving a sentence

Prisoners in hospital are generally still regarded as prisoners so the same entitlement rules apply.

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, section 59A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 or section 136 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.

After their sentence has expired, they are treated for benefits purposes as patients in hospital

6. National Insurance - Serving a sentence

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. However, you should get advice to make sure it is worth doing this.