Covid-19 (coronavirus) – Key information for people with criminal records

Aim of this page

Covid-19 and the social distancing measures introduced to help control it are creating challenges for all of us. For people with criminal records, these challenges can be particularly difficult to overcome.

Since the UK went into lock-down, we’ve been contacted by many people with criminal records – those with criminal records in the community, people in prison and people who are subject to licence or community orders – concerned about what Covid-19 means in terms of their criminal record.

We’ve produced this page, which tries to answer some of the common questions we’re coming across. We may not have all the answers – this situation is new to us too – but we will be regularly updating it to ensure it has the latest information and advice on Covid-19 and how it impacts on those with a criminal record.

We have also started to bring together the emerging issues faced by people with criminal records. These include employment, housing and education, as well as DBS checks and supervision arrangements. We are looking carefully at the policy implications of Covid-19 and the social distancing rules, and at how these might affect people with criminal records in the future. You can read more here. We will keep this page under review and update this as things change.

We want our information and policy work to accurately reflect the challenges you’re facing and we need your help to do that by completing a short survey. With this evidence, we can raise the issues and call for solutions.

Complete the survey here

We also have more information about our response as a charity on the main Unlock website.

Why is this important?

People that are serving a sentence in the community have specific restrictions and conditions that they have to follow. We know that both prison staff and probation officers have been trying to ensure that individuals who are in prison, those that are newly released and those serving sentences in the community have been kept up to date with the Covid-19 pandemic.

This lack of knowledge and awareness about restrictions and social distancing could potentially see individuals breaching reporting requirements or licence conditions. This could put extra strain on police, prison and probation services.

Early release from prison

We understand that it is the government’s intention to release approximately 4,000 people from prison on End of Custody Temporary Release in an attempt to control the spread of Covid-19.

To be considered for early release you must:

  • Be within 2 months of release
  • Have served at least 50% of your sentence
  • Be assessed as low or medium risk
  • Have accommodation and health support in place.

You will not be eligible for early release if you:

  • Have symptoms of Covid-19
  • Have served less than 50% of your sentence
  • Have been convicted of Covid-19 related offences (for example coughing at emergency workers)
  • Have been convicted of a sexual or violent offence
  • Pose a risk of domestic violence, child safeguarding or a national security concern
  • Assessed as high risk.

Impact of Covid-19

Current restrictions

The Prime Minister announced in March 2020 that, due to the growing threat of Covid-19, all UK residents should stay at home to protect the NHS. Restrictions are gradually being lifted and current advise is to ‘stay alert’. This means you must:

  • Stay at home as much as possible.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Limit contact with other people.
  • Keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible).
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.

Read more about what you can and cannot do here.

The police and local authorities have the power to enforce the requirements set out in law if you do not comply with them. If you breach the law, the police may instruct you to go home, leave an area or disperse.

If the police believe that you have broken the law – or you refuse to follow their instructions, you may be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £100 (reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days). If you have already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount for further offences will increase as follows:

If you refuse to pay your fine you could be taken to court where, magistrates will be able to impose an unlimited fine.

Social distancing guidelines

It is understood that social distancing (reducing the interactions we have with other people) will help to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The latest government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) can be found here.

Impact on services

The introduction of the lock-down has meant that many businesses and venue have had to close (a full list of businesses can be found here). In addition to this, many organisations have needed to implement home-working for their staff which has seen them conduct their work in very different ways (for example remotely rather than face-to-face). In some cases, this has led to some services being restricted.

Therefore, at a time when you’re looking to resettle back into the community, you may find that the help and support you need to do so is quite limited.

Support in the community after release from prison

In accordance with lock-down measures, prison resettlement teams have been removed from prisons which means that resettlement planning and ‘Through the Gate’ referrals are not being made. It is possible that community-based services may be operating restricted opening hours and the lack of face-to-face support could make it more difficult to attend appointments and access necessary services.

Finances

When you’re released from prison, you will receive a discharge grant of £46 – for anybody released under the early release scheme this will increase to £80. If you need to make a claim for Universal Credit you should do this as soon as you can. Claims should be made online at the GOV.UK website.

If you don’t have access to or are not able to use a smartphone or computer you can telephone 0800 169 0345. You will need:

  • Your release licence number if applicable
  • Bank account details (if you don’t have your own you may use a friend or family member’s account as a one-off)
  • Details of your accommodation, including any housing costs.

If you are over pension age you may need to claim Pension Credit. The application line number is 0800 99 1234.

If you’ve been working for an outside employer whilst in prison and your employer has to close their business, you may be put on temporary leave (‘furloughed’) but still receive 80% of your salary which your employer can claim back from the government. You may be eligible if you were employed prior to the scheme being announced and you have been paying PAYE.

Healthcare

The existing demands on the health service could make it difficult for you to access urgent medical services or substance misuse teams upon release. Try to ensure that the prison provides you with either medication or a prescription which you can take to a local pharmacy until you are able to register with a GP. You will not need to pay for your prescription providing it is marked ‘HMP’ by the prison healthcare department.

If you’re on licence, your probation officer may be able to contact a pharmacy on your behalf for advice about accessing the medication you need.

If you’re not currently registered with a GP, try to register as soon as possible. You’ll need to complete a GMS1 Registration Form and then check with the surgery how you get this to them. If you don’t have a permanent address you can still register with a surgery using a temporary one. You can find further details on the NHS website.

Mental/emotional health

You may find that social distancing is making you feel low or worried and you may be missing contact with other people. Adjusting to life in the community whilst dealing with the lock-down measures can make it easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour which can in turn, make you feel a lot worse. Public Health England have produced a leaflet on looking after your feelings and your body.

Access to technology

On leaving prison you may not have a smartphone or internet access which means that you may find it difficult to apply for Universal Credit or communicate with probation or other vital support services. Charities like Unlock have been calling on the government to provide people who are leaving prison with a smartphone (if they don’t already have one) which should have internet access. We will update this information as soon as we know anything more.

Reporting requirements and licence conditions

Whilst the social distancing restrictions are in place you may have different reporting arrangements.

Calls to our helpline have identified some inconsistencies in the way that probation are currently delivering their services. It is understandable that this inconsistency and lack of clarity will be causing you concern about how you are going to meet your licence conditions and reporting requirements and avoid a potential recall to prison. Several of the probation offices we have contacted have told us that probation officers will contact all individuals they are supervising to provide them with information about future appointments.

HMPPS have provided an information sheet for anybody being supervised by the National Probation Service regarding appointments and licence conditions.

National Probation Service staff have been given guidance which sets out how to ‘manage risk and protect the public, while applying social distancing guidance and reducing face-to-face contact wherever possible’.

  • The majority of offenders can be supervised by telephone/WhatsApp/Skype.
  • Given that telephone/WhatsApp/Skype is inferior to face-to-face contact, it is a requirement that the frequency of contact doubles for those who are being supervised in this way.
  • Face-to-face contact should be retained for the following groups:
    • TACT offenders
    • Offenders who don’t have access to a phone
    • Prison leavers reporting for their initial appointment.
  • Those who are considered high or very high risk of harm as well as those who are medium risk with domestic abuse or safeguarding issues, doorstep visits should be the first consideration. This will involve a visit to an offenders address and a telephone call being conducted from outside the property. This will allow staff to have sight of the offender at the address whilst facilitating a discussion. It is expected that, as a minimum, this occurs once every four weeks. For those presenting a medium risk, these should be used on a discretionary basis but no less than once every 3 months.

We’re not aware of any standard information relating to appointments with CRC’s. We’ve set out the appointment and supervision arrangements for each CRC during the Covid-19 lock-down below (or here.)

Community sentences

The government have stated that you should work from home unless it is impossible for you to do so. If your job involves operating machinery, if you work in construction or manufacturing, or you’re delivering front line services, then you’re not going to be able to work from home and will have to travel to work. Advice from the Chief Medical Officer is that you can continue to work providing you are not showing symptoms of Covid-19 and that your follow Public Health England Guidelines.

If you’re working in the community but still reporting to probation, there is no reason why your probation officer should stop you from going to work providing you meet the above criteria.

If your employer has to close their business, they may put some, or all of their staff on temporary leave (‘furlough’) during the pandemic. Your employer should put this in writing to you and it may be advisable to show this to your probation officer.

Financial support and Universal Credit

If you need to self-isolate because of Covid-19 and are unable to go to work, you may be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). To check your sick pay entitlement, speak to your employer or visit the GOV.UK website.

If you have lost your job, you may be eligible to claim Universal Credit. You will need to make a claim online and have your identity verified, so make sure you have your passport or driving licence to hand. Since 16th March, the DWP have received 1 million new claims for Universal Credit; to speed up the claims process, a DWP advisor will contact you if they need to check any of the information you have provided to them.

Finding employment

Finding employment is a priority for many but there are some additional challenges during the lock-down. Many businesses are closed and aren’t hiring. Many people have found themselves out of work so competition for jobs may be tougher than it has been in the last few months. On the other hand, some businesses are urgently recruiting to fulfil new demands, for example food retailers, delivery services and agricultural and farming employers are recruiting in large numbers. Agricultural jobs will often offer accommodation (for a fee). You can find further information on finding a job on our support getting into work page.

Many, but not all, employers ask about criminal records. Understanding your criminal record will help you work out what to tell an employer, if asked. In most cases, this will be unspent convictions only. You can use our disclosure calculator to help you work out whether your conviction is spent or not. Employers who are looking to recruit quickly may be more interested in your work ethic rather than your background, so this could be a good time to show your skills and get a foot in the door.

During lock-down the majority of employers will be carrying out job interviews via mobile phones or video (for example Skype or Zoom) rather than face-to-face.

  1. Are you living with people who might not be aware of your criminal record? If so, is there a safe, secure space where you can discuss your criminal record confidentially if you need to.
  2. Will you be referring to a disclosure statement in the interview? You may need to email this prior to the interview, so make sure you have the right email address to send it to.
  3. Do you have a good internet connection? You don’t want to lose your connection halfway through the interview. If this is likely to happen, request a telephone interview instead.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings. Ensure your backdrop is suitable and there’s nothing that may distract the interviewee.
  5. Make other people you live with aware of the interview. You don’t want to be distracted by background noise such a a TV, radio or people’s voices.
  6. Make sure you leave plenty of time to set up your equipment. If it’s a video call, check the format you’re using is working and that you have everything you’re likely to need to hand.

DBS checks

If an employer plans to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check then make sure it is at the right level for the job – in most cases, this would be a basic check.

The DBS have produced updated guidelines and factsheets relating to Covid-19 which can be found here.

People on the sex offenders register

Just like any other organisation, the police have been impacted by Covid-19 with some non-uniform staff having to be redeployed to the front line meaning less availability for officers to manage those on the register in the community.

There seems little consistency with the way that forces across the country are dealing with visits to those on the register. We’ve heard from one force who have suspended all visits until the lock-down is over, whilst another are continuing their visits unless an individual shows symptoms of Covid-19. Forces will no doubt take into account the resources they have available and the level of risk they believe you pose.

If you need to attend the police station for your annual registration, we suggest that you check the current arrangements in place with your PPU officer. Some officers are completing telephone registrations rather than ask you to attend the police station in person. Make sure you ask for confirmation in writing that you have registered.

Accommodation

Accommodation is a key concern at any time but while people are being told to ‘stay home’ as much as possible, it becomes even more important. If you need a place at an Approved Premises (AP) this should be arranged by your Offender Manager (OM). You may have to wait longer than usual as people in AP’s may be finding it harder to move on at the moment.

If you have a home address but another member of the household has symptoms of Covid-19 (a high temperature and/or a new or continuous cough), you should not go there. If you have a family member or friend you could stay with, let your OM know as soon as possible. Even if the address is outside your probation area, a temporary arrangement should be possible, until you can return home. If you already live with someone who begins showing symptoms, you should self-isolate (stay at home) for 14 days from the start of their symptoms. During this time you should keep in contact with your OM by telephone (if you are not already doing so).

If you don’t have an address to return to, or are in the community and at risk of homelessness, you should make your OM aware of this as soon as possible. Most housing offices are closed but are operating by telephone and email. Most local authorities have made special arrangements for people who are sleeping rough. Your OM should be able to provide you with contact details for your local area.

If  you have nowhere to go you can contact Street Link on 0300 500 0914.

Domestic abuse

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, from a partner or anyone else, there is help available. Domestic abuse isn’t always physical, it can be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. It includes witnessing the abuse of another member of the household, for example a parent or sibling.

Organisations that may be able to assist include:

Refuge provide support and advice to women, men and young people experiencing domestic abuse, and to anyone worried that someone else might be experiencing it.

Advice line specifically for men who are the victims of domestic violence.

In an emergency, always call 999. If you are unable to speak, cough or tap the handset in response to the operators questions, wait for instructions from the operator and then dial 55. If you are calling from a landline, information about where you’re calling from should be automatically available to the call handlers to help provide a response. This may not happen if you’re calling from a mobile.

Courts

HMCTS are currently consolidating the work of courts and tribunals into fewer buildings, some of which will be open to the public and some for staff only. A court tracker can be found here.

There are currently no jury trials taking place although Crown Courts are working remotely to deal with things like sentencing hearings and applications for bail. If your hearing is cancelled, the Court will contact you directly to confirm details of a new date and time.

Magistrates Courts are covering urgent work only which will include overnight custody cases from police stations, productions from prison and applications to extend custody time limits.

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • DWP – Provide advice for jobseekers.
  • GOV.UK – Government site providing general information on Covid-19, employment and benefits.
  • NHS
  • Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) – National charity providing support to prisoners, people with convictions and their families.
  • Prisoner Advice Service – Offer free legal advice and support to adults in prison.
  • Prison Reform Trust – Independent charity working to improve conditions for people in prison.
  • Refuge – Provide advice and support to victims of domestic violence
  • Respect Mens Advice Line – Provide advice and support for men who are victims of domestic violence

 

 

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