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Criminal Defence Articles

What happens to your possessions when you go to jail in the UK?

prison adviser

If you are facing a custodial sentence in the UK, you may well be concerned about what happens to your possessions when you go to jail. Questions about this are very common, and they raise issues both about your physical possessions, such as clothing, furniture, and anything you have on your person that day, and your intangible possessions, like money, investments, and property in your name. While it often helps to have someone on the outside to assist you in managing your property, there are occasions where you might not have someone to help, and for this reason, it is important to plan in advance. In the remainder of this article, we outline some of the main things you should bear in mind about your own property, as well as some tips for how other people can help you while you are in prison.

What happens to my home when I go to prison?

Going to prison does not mean that you automatically lose your home. You will be able to make appropriate arrangements with prison staff to protect your home and make sure you have somewhere to go when you are released.

Within a few days of entering prison, the staff should carry out a housing needs assessment. This assessment will give you an opportunity to make arrangements and plan what will happen with your property, whether owned or rented. During the meeting, you will be able to do things like tell the prison where you need to send mortgage or rent payments, arrange for a message to be sent to your landlord or landlady, and share details of other people you live with who may depend on you to help make payments. It may also be possible to register for benefits to help pay for your housing while you are unable to work normally.

The assessment also gives you an opportunity to raise any concerns you might have about not having housing upon release. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to register for council housing and get on the waiting list from the time you enter prison, meaning you won’t have to wait as long for support when you get out.

What happens to any belongings I bring with me to prison?

You are allowed to bring certain belongings with you when you enter prison. Generally, you can bring up to two boxes worth of belongings, and some prisons even allow larger items like guitars. Exactly what you are allowed and how much depends on the prison, but generally you can bring:

  • Toiletries, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, and shower items
  • A device to play music on, like a stereo or portable CD player
  • A watch or clock
  • An address book
  • A calendar or diary
  • Games, including electronic games devices
  • Art materials
  • Smoking materials (including up to 62.5 grams of loose tobacco or 80 cigarettes if convicted, and up to 137.5 grams of loose tobacco or 180 cigarettes if not convicted)
  • A book of stamps, writing paper, and envelopes
  • Books, newspapers, and magazines
  • Medicine (the staff will likely direct you as to how and how much of it you can store it in your cell)
  • Wedding ring or other plain banded ring
  • Any required disability equipment
  • Photographs and pictures (without glass in the frames)
  • Batteries for any devices you bring

If you bring certain items to the prison with you that you are not allowed, an officer will confiscate them, and they will either be stored for return upon your release or destroyed if perishable or dangerous. Sometimes, officers may allow you to arrange for a particular item to be collected by a friend or family member, but you would have to check with the officer at the time.

What happens to my belongings outside of prison?

The housing assessment completed upon your arrival in prison will give you the chance to make arrangements for most of your belongings, if you had not done so before arriving at prison. If someone else lived with you prior to going to prison, your belongings are likely to be cared for, but if you lived alone, it is important that you find someone to help. It is especially important to do so if you lived in rented accommodation as the landlord/landlady may think you have abandoned your property if they are not otherwise notified.

If you did live alone, the best thing to do is try to arrange for your someone to visit your property every now and again to check on things and make it look like the place is being taken care of. This will ward off intruders and give you reassurance that everything is how you left it.

Make sure to notify your insurance company of your incarceration as well, as your insurance may depend on someone living at the property and if you are found not to be there when something happens, you may lose coverage entirely.

Finally, remember that pets count as belongings, too. You should make it a priority to arrange good care for them in advance of any sentencing date, if possible. If for whatever reason that is not possible, you should contact family or friends or an animal charity who can care for your animals while you are away.

What happens to your money when you go to jail?

Cash is not permitted in prison, thus when you arrive at the prison reception any cash amounts will be taken, recorded, and deposited into a prison account for you. This is sometimes called ‘cash seizure’. Make sure to double check the amount you came in with and the amount recorded at reception so that you know you are getting the correct amount.

Once in jail, there are usually three types of prison account available to you. You will be given a spending account, which allows you to buy things in prison. Any wages you earn from prison work will be deposited into this account, and it is also possible to transfer money into this account from your private cash account, which is where any money goes that family and friends send to you. Some prisons also allow a savings account, where you can keep money to use upon release.

Exactly how much you can transfer into your spending account depends on whether you are convicted and your level of Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEPs) (basic, entry, standard, or enhanced).

Convicted persons may transfer weekly up to £4 on basic, £10 on entry, £15,50 on standard, and £25.50 on enhanced IEPs. Those without convictions have a higher allowance, and may transfer weekly up to £22 on basic, £35 on entry, £47.50 on standard, and £51 on enhanced IEPs.

No interest rates are payable on sums in prison accounts, so if you have larger sums of money available it is advisable to keep them in external bank accounts (but note you can only contact your bank by post and services are highly restricted).

What about sending money to someone in prison?

The UK government provides a free and secure online service to help people send money to their friends and relatives in any public prison in England and Wales (plus HMP Lowdham Grange, HMP Northumberland, and HMP Oakwood, which are private prisons).

If you are asking someone to send money to you, you will need to give them your date of birth and your prisoner number. The person will be able to pay via a Visa, Mastercard, or Maestro debit card and the money will usually arrive in your prisoner’s account in less than three working days (but it does sometimes take longer). If paying by another method, such as a bank transfer, postal order, cheque, or cash, the payments can take longer to process. All the required information is available on the Gov.uk website.

If you are sent to a private prison, anyone wanting to send you money should contact the prison directly to ask for specific instructions.

Generally, there are no strict limits on the amount someone can send to a person in prison, but the weekly transfer limits described above restrict how much a prisoner can use, so those should be borne in mind by family and friends.

Where can I get help deciding what I need to do with my possessions?

Figuring out exactly what arrangements to make with your possessions and property when you are going to prison can be very difficult. The first step should be to contact family and friends and see what help is available, but for everything else, the expert team at Stuart Miller Solicitors can be your backup plan. We have considerable experience advising on these matters and can give you information about other support that might be available to you. We can also assist with more complex topics like confiscation and freezing orders if necessary. For more information, please get in touch with the team today for a friendly no-obligation consultation.

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