Pensions for prisoners

By Paul Sullivan, from insidetime issue February 2009

The denial of prisoners’ pension rights is an issue about which we are increasingly out of step with the rest of Europe. Former prisoner Paul Sullivan reports on the support of the National Pensioners Convention.

Pensions for prisoners

There are now over 2,400 prisoners aged over 60 in England and Wales, including 493 over 70 (as at August 2008). Most of these prisoners would have paid enough National Insurance contributions to enable them to receive a full State Pension; however under section 113 of the Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 these people are refused their pension. The Act says that anyone in ‘lawful custody’ loses their pension right. The only other exception used to be pensioners in hospital, but that has now been removed leaving prisoners as the only section of society that has their pension right removed.

The National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC), Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation representing over 1,000 local, regional and national pensioner groups, with one and a half million members, believes prisoners should not lose their pension rights. In a statement to Inside Time, Neil Duncan-Jordan, National Officer of the NPC stated:

The NPC considers the state pension to be a right rather than a benefit and as it is currently based on a contributory principle, should be paid to prisoners according to their contribution record in the same way as to any other contributor. The NPC would go further and argue that the disqualification provision in section 113 of the Contributions and Benefits Act should be withdrawn from the statute book. We have been arguing for some time that persons living outside the UK should receive the state pension based on their contributions and up-rated annually in the same way as those living in the UK. This is the first category for disqualification. The second category for disqualification is imprisonment or detention in legal custody. We can see no argument for withholding the state pension on these grounds as;

  1. It is based on contributions made to the NI scheme and payments withheld by the state are lost to the individual concerned forever;
  2. If the argument is that the state is recouping some of the money spent on detaining someone in prison then why are older prisoners the only category subjected to this ‘charge’? This is discriminatory;
  3. Occupational pensions are paid to prisoners whilst in prison;
  4. The withholding of state pension to people in hospital is being stopped (this is the only other example of the state withholding the pension that we know of);
  5. Prisoners have now won the right to vote (removal of a disqualification in another Act);
  6. This leaves the withholding of the pension as a very antiquated and anomalous form of punishment.

Therefore we urge the removal of the whole of the disqualification provision in section 113 of the Contributions and Benefits Act.

Elderly prisoners have little provision made for them by the Prison Service, as set out by Charles Hanson in the January issue of Inside Time. In some prisons, if they refuse to work past retirement age they are classed as ‘unemployed’. Similarly, in certain prisons they may get a ‘retired rate’ but remain locked up twenty or more hours a day. The rate of pay for prisoners who are long-term sick or of retirement age who are not working is £3-25p per week.

PSO 4460, which covers prisoners’ earnings, states in Para 5 that:

Prisoners of state retirement age are not normally required to work. They may work for standard rates of pay if they choose, provided there are suitable activities available in the establishment”.

“Prisoners of state retirement age can, however, be required to participate in other purposeful activity as identified by the sentence / training plan or learning plan. They should be paid at the standard rate for these sessions. Unreasonable refusal renders them liable to be classified as ‘unwilling to work’ and therefore not to receive any pay”.

One of the crazy situations elderly prisoners may find themselves in is that, according to Para 2.8 of PSO 4460, if the retired prisoner ‘earned over the tax threshold’ (maybe with work pension, investments etc) he would be liable for National Insurance contributions whilst, at the same time, being barred from receiving the benefits paid for by the contributions.

It is now exactly 100 years since the first ‘Old Age Pension’ was drawn under the Old Age Pensions Act of January 1909. In those days, the pension was five shillings (25p) and recipients had to be over 70 years old: anyone who had been in prison during the preceding ten years was barred from receiving it. We live in a more enlightened age and now, a century later, it is time for the issue of elderly prisoners’ pensions to be remedied and due respect shown to those who may not only have contributed to their pension throughout their lives, but may also have fought for the country in conflicts in order to keep us free from repression and allow power to the very politicians who now seek to impose further financial punishments on them. Both the Prison Reform Trust and Age Concern have expressed dismay at the continual denial of prisoners’ pension rights.

It is not only the prisoner himself who may suffer. Many women of this age have no entitlement to a state pension in their own right and so, if their husbands in prison have pension rights removed, wives at home, guilty of no crime, also suffer. As Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern England points out; ‘England, which has a higher number of elderly prisoners than most European countries, is increasingly out of step with Europe on this issue and the continued denial of pension rights can only harm reintegration on release’.

How much would it cost? Based on a minimum pension of £54.35 per week, the total cost would be under £7 million each year. The cost per prisoner would be just £2,800 – equivalent to the cost of keeping them in prison for three weeks.

The Prison Service might huff and puff about how it would be paid, but that is simple; either into the prisoner’s own bank account or monthly into the prisoner’s Private Cash account and transferred into ‘spends’ at the prevailing rate; dependent upon IEP.

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Comments about this article

1/11/2010 nicola neuman

giving old age pensioners in prison a pension would afford them some sort of dignity and independence especially those who have no one to give them anything or care for them this would stop them living on the streets and eating out of dustbins when thwy are released. All they ask is for a bit of respect in their old age

3/1/2011 Jean Tucker -

i believe taht giving the pensioners their rightful pensions whist in prison would cut reoffending and reduce their need for other state benefits and health services.

13/12/2012 Nick Bannington

I think prisoners should be given their pension to which they have made contributions, but only after the cost of their accommodation, currently running at around £700/week, has been deducted from it..

26/1/2013 Duncan R -

With even more pensioners now in prison the amount of money saved by not paying these pensions by the government must be increasing. Does anyone know where the pensions of these prisoners goes if it is not going to the pensioners themselves? Is the money going to the prison service?

If prisoners have paid their NI contributions they should get their pension. I agree it is a right not a benefit.

25/7/2014 Taiwo Olaniyi -

I agree prisoners should be able to receive the back pay of their pensions once they are out of prison, as these are contributions made by the Prisoners, while they were working.
Two things however. A Prisoner whose national insurance was merely credited because they were on passported benefits before retiring deserved no such indulgence.
And two, it is not correct that an old pensioner would still be liable to pay national insurance. If it is bewing taken, the old pensioner can ask for a card from the pension service to say that they have been exempted. Tax liability is a different kettle of fish.

12/11/2014 Paul Hanson -

Is this a correct ?

A person goes to prision for any reason just before they are about to claim thier State Pension .

By the time they come out of Prison even if it is just a mattter of months they lose their State Pension for the rest of thier natural life. Sounds a bit unfair if this is true

Paul Sullivan replies:
A person in prison loses his state pension for the period he/she is in prison. When they are released they are eligible to receive it again.

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This article appears under the following categories...
Older Prisoners

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