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

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If you have been convicted and are facing prison time, you would be forgiven if your finances are not the top of your agenda. However, you should not ignore your debts at this time. If you were hoping that prison would offer you some security against your debts, unfortunately this is not the case. Creditors can still take action against you whilst you are behind bars. So, if you are facing a custodial sentence, now is the time to get your finances in order. This article provides information about what happens to your debts when you go to jail. It explains what happens after you are given your sentence, and sets out the work opportunities and rates of remuneration that are available in prison.

What happens to debt when you go to jail in the UK?

The short answer is that nothing happens to your debts when you go to prison. You will still owe the same amount to the same creditors. Your creditors can still take action to enforce a debt against you. This includes:

  • Pursuing a County Court Judgement against you
  • Taking action to make you bankrupt
  • If you owe money to your local authority such as council tax, action may be taken to deduct this from your benefits and/or wages

A key consideration is that action taken by creditors may impact upon your family living at home. For example, if you are behind with your rent, this could lead to them being evicted. If you owe money for utilities such as electricity or gas, these services may be cut off from your home.

On the other hand, some debts do become statute barred after six years. This means that after six years have passed, your creditor will be unable to initiate court action against you.

What should you do if you are facing a custodial sentence but you cannot afford to pay your debts?

The most important thing to do if you are facing prison time with debts is to communicate with your creditors. Keep them informed of your situation. For example, inform them of the length of your sentence. Of course, you will not know at the outset exactly how long you will spend behind bars. However, you should give them an estimate to the best of your knowledge. The last thing you want is to be released from prison only to learn that your debt situation has become much worse.

You can ask your creditors if they would be willing to agree to a payment break (also known as a payment holiday) whilst you serve your sentence. This means that you would pause your repayments for a certain period of time. However, make sure you understand the terms of this agreement. It is likely that you will still continue to accrue interest and other extra charges during this time. Ultimately, this will increase the size of the debt that you owe. Nonetheless, this may still be the best option available to you.

Ask a trusted family member or friend if they are willing to liaise with your creditors on your behalf whilst you are in jail. If they agree, ask your creditor to agree to correspond with that person instead of you whilst you are in prison. In prison, you only have limited time to speak on the phone. You will probably want to use your telephone time to stay in touch with your family. You don’t want to spend those precious moments on hold to a call centre.

What happens when you are given a custodial sentence in the UK?

Transfer to prison

Once you receive your sentence in the court, you will be transported directly from the court to a prison in the vicinity of the court for a few nights (known as a ‘reception prison’). For example, say you are sentenced at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. You might be taken to HMP Pentonville. From there, if you are serving a long sentence, you will probably be transferred to another prison to serve the remainder of your sentence. You could move prisons several times over the course of your sentence, for example if you start your sentence in a Category C prison, you might be moved part way through to a Category D prison. On the other hand, if you are serving a shorter sentence, you might remain in the same prison.

The length of your sentence is only one of the factors that will be taken into consideration when deciding which prison to place you in. The prison service will also consider the severity of the offence that you have committed, and the level of risk that you pose of escape when deciding which security categorisation is appropriate for you. These range from Category A (maximum security) to Category D (open conditions). Note that prisoners are usually only placed in open conditions once they have proven their good behaviour in a higher security level prison. For more information on the security categorisation of prisons, refer to the prison service instruction 40/2011 (PSI).


On arrival at prison, your belongings will be given to reception staff who will sort out which items are permitted to come with you into the prison. Those items that cannot be taken in with you will be stored by the prison until your release. You will also be informed which items of clothing you are allowed to bring in with you.

You are not allowed to bring cash in with you to prison. The prison will keep your money on your behalf in a private cash account. Friends and family can top up this account with some cash to help you out. You will be allowed to spend a set amount each week on items available for purchase within the prison such as snacks and phone calls. The maximum that any convicted prisoner is allowed to spend in prison in a week is £25.50, but most prisoners are limited to £15.50. These spending limits have not changed since 2008, which might seem quite unfair when you consider how much more expensive the world has become since then.


Whilst in prison, you will be issued with a prison number. If it’s your first time inside, you will have your photograph and fingerprints taken, which will be added to your prison record. You will be given a pin number for making telephone calls. Usually, the prison will ask you to provide a list of the telephone numbers that you intend to call, which will be checked by the prison. You will also be told your earliest date of release (EDL), and the date that you may be allowed to go home wearing an electronic tag, which is known as Home Detention Curfew (HDC).


When you arrive in prison, you will be reviewed by a doctor or nurse. They will give you your prescription medications. They will also ask you about any physical or mental health issues that you have, and any substance use issues that you are suffering from, so that you can be provided with the support that you need. Debt could be raised as a stressor here, so seek support if you’re worried about that.

Can you work in prison?

Many prisoners get the chance to work whilst they are serving their prison sentence. This could include making clothes, furniture, or electrical items. This work is carried out in prison workshops and should always be paid. There are also opportunities to contribute to the running of the prison, such as by working in the kitchen or the laundry. Receiving positive feedback from the work that you do in prison can help you achieve release as early as possible. Prisoners who are unable to work due to their physical or mental health should receive sickness pay. Those who are capable of work but are unable to do so due to a lack of opportunity should receive unemployment pay.

How much do prison jobs pay?

Prison Service Order 4460 sets out the minimum rate of pay for prisoners in England and Wales, and their standard earnings. For prisoners working full time, the minimum pay is £4 per week. For those who are unemployed or on short-term sick leave, the minimum pay is £2.50 per week. Maternity pay, long-term sick leave and retirement is paid at £3.25 per week. You can see from looking at these rates of pay why it would be difficult to repay a debt whilst serving a prison sentence. These amounts are very low.

Where to get further help

If you are being tried for an offence that may result in a custodial sentence, contact Stuart Miller Solicitors today. We can help ensure that you receive the fairest possible sentence, which takes into account the mitigating factors in your case. In addition, if you believe that you are being mistreated in prison in breach of your human rights, we may be able to assist. Contact us for a no-obligation consultation today.


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