Housing Systems: Combating poverty and sustaining tenancies.
Housing: Occupation - In Prison / Remand
Generally 'prisoners' are not entitled to Universal Credit. Universal Credit Regulation 19 Para 1(b) - see below.

However, some can still get help with their rent whilst away from their home...…….

Who is a 'prisoner'?

For UC purposes a claimant will count as a prisoner if they are:

  • Detained in custody - whether pending trial, pending sentence, on conviction, or sentenced by the court; or,
  • On temporary release in accordance with the provisions of the Prison Act 1952 or the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 (also called home leave or ROTL - release on temporary licence).

But they do not count as a prisoner if they have been detained in hospital - they then count as a hospital detainee and cannot get UC (Universal Credit Regulation 19 Para 1(c)).

DWP Guidance (Chapter E3 of the Advice for Decision Makers) states that the definition 'prisoner' does NOT include (amongst others) anyone: released on licence, on a home detention scheme, on a suspended sentence, or sentenced to community service.

Which 'prisoners' can claim UC?

That depends on whether they are part of a couple - in which case their partner can continue* to claim -  or whether they are single.
*If they were not on UC before the imprisonment, but reduced income means they are now eligible, then the partner would need to make a new claim.
Scroll down for more.

Single 'prisoners' are not entitled to make a new claim for UC - ie if they were not getting UC before becoming a 'prisoner' they will not be able to claim - even those on remand.
However, if:
- they were getting UC prior to becoming a a 'prisoner', and
- they are going to be away from home for less than 6 months, and
- their UC award included a Housing Costs Element to help them pay their rent - 
then their UC can continue - but when assessed, their maximum UC award would just include a Housing Costs Element (ie no Standard Allowance or any other Elements). See below for more details.


Many claimants find that when they become a prisoner, even though they meet the rules for getting UC to help pay their rent (see below), their Universal Credit is stopped completely i.e. that their housing costs do not continue. The DWP seem to believe prisoners aren't entitled to UC, full stop!

If a claimant is affected by this they should challenge the decision not to pay the Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit - by requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision on their journal. We have devised a letter for you: UC HCE8. (Note - the claimant should make this request through their on line UC account)
Single claimant is a 'prisoner'
They must have been getting Universal Credit with the Housing Costs Element prior to becoming a 'prisoner' for it to continue whilst on remand / in prison - ie no new claim can be made. 

A Single claimant 'prisoner' can continue to receive help with their rent ie get just the Housing Costs Element of Universal Credit, as long as:
  • They were on Universal Credit which included a Housing Costs Element immediately before becoming a 'prisoner', and
  • If on remand - meet the temporary absence rules ie they will no longer be treated as living in the property (and therefore not entitled to a Housing Costs Element) where their absence exceeds, or is expected to exceed, 6 months (UC Regulations - Para 9, Schedule 3), or
  • If sentenced - have not been sentenced to a term in custody that is expected to extend beyond 6 months (UC Regulations - Reg 19).

See "Length of absence" below for when a custodial sentence of more than 6 months might not entail UC ending.

The absence is going to be less than 6 months - what happens to the claimant's Universal Credit?

Where a single claimant becomes a 'prisoner', if they are expected to be returning home within 6 months, and they were getting the Housing Costs Element included in their award prior to becoming a 'prisoner', then their UC award can continue. BUT it will be reassessed.

From the beginning of the Monthly Assessment Period in which they become a prisoner, their UC award will only include a Housing Costs Element. Their award will continue like this until they return home (or until their situation changes and they are no longer expected to return home within 6 months- meaning their award stops).

Once they have returned home, they will be entitled to have the Standard Allowance (and whatever other Elements they are entitled to) included in their UC award from the beginning of the Monthly Assessment Period in which they return home.

NOTE: 'Prisoners' are excluded, by Universal Credit Reg 99, from having to have any work search or work related requirements.

The absence is going to be more than 6 months - what happens to the claimant's Universal Credit?

Where a single claimant becomes a 'prisoner', if they are expected to be away from home for more than 6 months, then their UC award will be terminated.

It will end from the beginning of the Monthly Assessment Period in which they became a 'prisoner'.

On release they will need to make a new claim for Universal Credit. Scroll to the end for "Benefit support for prisoners due for release".
One of a couple is a 'prisoner'
Where one member of the couple becomes a 'prisoner', then the remaining partner can continue to claim Universal Credit as a single person - although any assessable income or capital that the 'prisoner' has will still be taken into account as income when the award is assessed.
If they were not on UC before the imprisonment, then the partner of the prisoner can make a claim as a single person if they are likely to be eligible (eg because the prisoner is no longer earning).

When will the claimant stop being treated as occupying their home?

The claimant is no longer treated as occupying their home if:

  • From the start of the absence it is expected that they will be away longer than six months, or
  • At any point during the 6 months the claimant changes their mind and no longer intends to return home - from the date of that decision, or
  • At any point during the 6 months it becomes apparent that the claimant is likely to be away for more than 6 months - from the date on which this becomes apparent, or
  • After they have been away for a continuous period of 6 months.
Benefit support for prisoners due for release.
Prison Work Coaches should be available to support prisoners before they leave.

In a parliamentary answer DWP Minister Will Quince has stated:

'Prisoners serving short sentences are able to retain the housing element for up to six months to prevent them from being homeless on release. For those prisoners serving longer sentences the Prison Work Coach will engage with the prisoner two-three weeks prior to release and will identify any accommodation issues at this point.

All discharged prisoners (sentenced to two days or more) are supported on release by a Ministry of Justice contracted provider - a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), the CRC should consider any accommodation issues and support in signposting/engaging with the appropriate support.

If a Prison Work Coach has identified any accommodation issues during their intervention with the prisoner they would use the District Provision Tool to identify any suitable support that might be available locally and refer or signpost the prisoner to that provision. For those engaging with the Prison Work Coach an advanced appointment will be made for as soon as possible following release. Once the claim to universal credit is made by the prisoner, they would be able to apply for an advance of their first payment straightaway, meaning that money could be made available on the same day as the claim is made.'

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