Useful information for people leaving prison
Leaving prison can be daunting and confusing. It can be hard to know what you need to do, when you need to do it, and what support is available. The information below was written by people who have left prison. They share what you can do as you prepare to leave, and how to settle back into the community once you’ve been released.
Preparation for release
3 months before release
Put in applications and start gathering the information required for the following:
- Visit the Resettlement Office, to help with outstanding resettlement issues.
- If you haven’t already done so and you are seeking supplementary funding, now might be a good time to make applications for funding and grants. Speak to your probation officer about this.
- Open a bank account – this may be done by the resettlement officer
- Contact Jobcentre Plus to find out about benefits you could apply for. A Universal Credit (UC) application must be filled in online at www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit If you need help with the application or have any questions, call: 0800 328 5644. If you can apply for Jobseekers Allowance, fill in the online application at www.gov.uk/jobseekers-allowance/how-to-claim or call 0800 055 6688 Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.
- Ask someone who works in the library to look up information for you on National Careers Service, Skills Development Scotland, Careers Wales or nidirect Careers Service. They have websites that give information and advice on getting jobs. Also, see the getting into employment section and look at the Hardman Directory for ideas. If you have the Virtual Campus in your prison, you can gain access to a lot of useful information on jobs pre-release. You might also have an Employment Hub in your prison.
- Ask your personal officer about charities that give advice on housing (temporary or permanent). Your prison may have connections with different charities that provide advice and guidance on this.
- Find a mentor – have a look at the section in the Directory on mentoring. It can be difficult to ‘go it alone’. Prison charities or chaplaincies might be able to help you contact local organisations in the area you are going to.
2 months prior to release
It is now a good time to:
- Start thinking about applying for jobs. You can do this with Jobcentre Plus or with a job club or employment hub if your prison has one.
- In some prisons you can apply for voluntary work in the community.
- Get valid photo ID from Resettlement or try CitizenCard
- Talk to your probation officer to get addresses for support networks in the area you are moving to.
- Contact HMRC to get documents that show your name and National Insurance number if you don’t already have your NI number. Call on 0300 2003500. Their written reply should arrive within 15 days.
1 month prior to release
- Talk to your personal officer about signing release papers.
- If you need medication you should apply to see healthcare. Healthcare can provide you 7 days of medicine on the day you are released from prison.
- Finish any applications for Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance.
- If you are of retirement age make a note to contact Age UK to ask for their help in claiming benefits.
- Find out about your transport from the prison to your new accommodation.
- Return any books you have borrowed from the prison.
- Start planning what you want to take with you when you are released and pack what you can.
- Check with your personal officer what you can throw away and what you can leave behind.
- Put the property you want to take with you in bags and take them to reception.
- When you are released you will be given up to £200 of the money from your prison account. This will be given you in cash. Any money over £200 will be given to you as a cheque. If you want this money in cash instead of a cheque you will have to ask for it to be in cash before your day of release. You will be asked to sign a form that says you asked for the money in cash and you understand the dangers of carrying the money in cash.
- Try and prepare yourself mentally for release. This will not be easy, but think about what you would like to achieve and note down a few aims and objectives for yourself. Think about who you can go to for support.
Your day of release
- Read your release papers carefully and then sign them.
- If you need medication, go to the discharge nurse. You will have to sign a form when you collect your medicine.
- Sign a form to say you have collected your property. Make sure to check you have everything before signing. Anything left behind will be thrown away and you cannot ask for it back.
- Make sure you know where you are getting your transport from.
- Make sure you see your probation officer on time or you will be in breach of your licence and may have to go back to prison.
- Go to your new accommodation and make sure you know any rules that you need to follow. Breaking rules in your accommodation could cause you problems.
- Sign any documents to do with your accommodation that you need to. Make sure you read them carefully and keep a copy for yourself.
- If you are in a hostel, you can ask your key worker to help you.
Day after release
- If you have questions about Universal Credit call 0800 328 5644.
- If you have a long term disability or a medical reason that you cannot work then you should apply for ESA/PIP. To apply for ESA or PIP call: 0800 169 0350.
- For pension queries the Pension Service can be called on 0800 731 7898.
- Register at the local doctors. It can take a few weeks to arrange an appointment or any medicine you need. If you need medicine right away then call the doctors and they will help.
In your first week
- You will sometimes need to have documents to prove where you live. Until you start receiving letters and bills you can use your tenancy agreement.
- Visit the bank and apply for any cards or deposit books you may need. You will need to take your photo ID with you and proof of where you live.
- Set up an email account if you do not already have one. A lot of online services need you to have email to use them.
- Join your local library so you can borrow books and use the internet. The people who work in the library can help you with setting up an email account and using the internet.
- You can go to your local Citizens Advice or Law Centre for help. They can help you if you have debt or need legal advice or need help filling out forms or applications.
- If you have Universal Credit make an appointment at your local Jobcentre Plus as soon as possible. You will need to take your photo ID with you to the first appointment.
- If you are in temporary housing you should apply for permanent housing. You could start by going to the local council, looking online or in local newspapers.
In your first month
- If you can work you may want to apply for jobs.
- Make sure your CV is up to date and has the right address, email and phone number on it.
- If you had any doctor or hospital appointments booked while you were in prison you should call and have them moved to your local doctor or hospital.
- You may want to book an appointment at the opticians to get your eyes checked.
- You may want to register at your local dentist.
- If your next accommodation is likely to be unfurnished, apply for furniture grants. Further details are available in the Directory. Help may also be available from your council or, for example, from Salvation Army charity shops.
- Sign up to any special clinics or support groups you need to.
3 months later
- Keep looking for jobs if you do not already have one.
- Hopefully by now you can move to a permanent address.
- … but if you don’t have a permanent address, there are a number of places you can go to around the country which offer support, classes and free food. Ask probation or phone the national homeless charities’ helplines to see if they know of places in your town or city.
- If you are able to move to another address you need to let your bank know.
- You may need to contact the companies that provide water, gas and electricity and tell them your new address.
- If you are getting benefits then you need to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that you have moved.
- You may need to apply for a television licence. This can be paid by direct debit.
- You can sign up for free courses and join local organisations. These are a great way to have fun and meet new people.
- You can also think about volunteering. Charities require all sorts of help and there are regional and government schemes that promote volunteering.
Dealing with debt
Before making a phone call or attending an appointment with a debt advice charity, it will be useful to have some details to hand. The figures you provide are used by advisors and creditors to help ensure that any repayment agreement is affordable. If you visit www.hardmantrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Financial-Statement.xlsx you will find an example of a financial statement, with auto-calculating monthly figures! Even if you don’t have debts this form can be a helpful way to look at your monthly budget and make plans accordingly.
You may also find it beneficial to have completed a Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF), if you have mental health problems and are suffering due to your financial circumstances. This form was created by debt and health professionals to help ensure debtors are dealt with sensitively by their creditors. The form will need to be completed by a medical or social-care professional. More information on DMHEF can be found here. www.moneyadvicetrust.org/advice-services/dmhef/
A good starting place, for where to go and the options available, is the Money Helper Service’s website: www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en/money-troubles/dealing-with-debt They will be able to direct you to suitable organisations that can help or you can use the online information to manage your money problems.
If in the months following release you have built up gas, electric or water debts from your utility provider(s) or are struggling to pay your energy bills you may be able to take advantage of certain benefits, grants and help offered from the government or the utility provider themselves.
Opening a bank account
HMPPS works with the six largest commercial banks to ensure that, as the end of sentence approaches, all prisoners are able to apply for a bank account. If the application is accepted then the normal documentation, debit card and PIN are held in ‘valuable property’ until release and money can be deposited into the account.
On release you can use the account immediately by activating it in a local branch. Prisons manage the scheme in different ways according to the needs of their population and in most cases Probation will help you. In some cases – for example at several open prisons – prisoners are able to open credit union accounts into which they can deposit savings.
Banks stress that, whether assisted or not, you should complete the application documentation as accurately as possible, in particular details relating to your previous addresses. Applications flagged by bank systems as containing fraudulent information can cause severe difficulties with future applications.
If you find yourself walking out of the gate without a bank account you will need to get together every bit of identification you can. If you are going to a hostel then make sure you ask your support worker for help, they will know which banks are easiest for someone with little or no paperwork to get started. They will also be able to write you a letter or even come with you to help. If you have a mentor then do ask them for assistance.
Every bank will have its own system but all need proof of identity and proof of address. The most common things that are accepted, assuming you don’t have a birth certificate, passport or driving licence are:
- ID card (Citizens Card is the most common)
- letter from local or national Government department
- tenancy agreement (you will have one of these from your hostel)
- HMRC correspondence with name and National Insurance number on (you can request this whilst in prison)
- letter from your doctor, solicitor or probation officer/social worker
prison release papers
There is a very thorough guide to opening a bank account on the Nerdwallet website. It’s a good place to look if you are not sure how to open an account while you are in prison, or upon your release.