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Prisoners serving a sentence

This guide provides information about entitlement to specific benefits if you are serving a prison 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 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. 

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:

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 directly about your change of circumstances.

In Northern Ireland, tell your local Housing Executive.

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.

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.

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, but you should seek advice to make sure it is worth doing this.