The Government has announced that all prison visits are temporarily suspended until further notice. For the most up-to-date information, please read the latest government guidance about Coronavirus and prisons which includes a list of other ways to get in touch with prisoners at this time.
If you are the close relative or partner, of a prisoner and you are in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income you may be eligible for help with your travel costs from the Help with Prison Visits service.
Who can apply?
Close relative is defined as wife, husband, civil partner, natural or adoptive mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandparent, step/half brother/sister, step child, step parent or someone who has acted in loco parentis for a significant part of the prisoner’s childhood. A partner can be someone in a heterosexual or a same sex relationship with the prisoner.
You can also apply for assistance, if you meet all other criteria, and you are not a close relative of the prisoner but you are the sole visitor to that prisoner.
You may also be eligible for assistance if you are escorting a qualifying young person or adult to visit someone in prison.
Who qualifies for help?
To qualify for assistance under the scheme you must be in receipt of one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Employment and Support Allowance (Income Related)
- Income Based (not contribution based) Job Seeker’s Allowance
- Universal Credit (income limit applies)
- Working Family Tax Credit with a disability element
- Working Tax Credit with Child Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Pension Credit
You may be eligible for help under the scheme if you are not in receipt of any of the above benefits but are on a low income and hold a Health Certificate 2 or 3. Application forms for a Health Certificate 2 or 3 are available, please call the Help with Prison Visits service on 0300 063 2100.
Which prisons can you visit?
The scheme will provide a contribution to the cost of making a prison visit to all prison establishments in England, Wales and Scotland (including Young Offender Institutions).
Qualifying visitors living in England Wales or Scotland can also claim assistance with the cost of visiting a prison in Northern Ireland.
Qualifying visitors living in England, Wales or Scotland can also claim assistance towards the cost of visiting a prison in Guernsey or Jersey although this is restricted to one visit every six months.
Residents of Northern Ireland can apply for assistance with their visits to prisons in Northern Ireland or the mainland. Different rules apply for that scheme and application packs are available from the Help with Prison Visits service (see contact details below).
How often can you visit?
Help is normally provided with the cost of two visits every 28 days and up to a maximum of 26 visits in a year. This limit is applicable whether the prisoner is on remand or has been sentenced/convicted.
What does the scheme cover?
The scheme will contribute towards the cost of travel to the prison by rail, bus, private motor vehicle, ferry, car hire, taxi and air travel. The reimbursement of taxi fares is restricted to certain circumstances – it is best to check with the Help with Prison Visits scheme prior to making any journey by taxi. It is important to retain all tickets and receipts relating to the journey as these will need to be provided to the Help with Prison Visits scheme for reimbursement. You do not need to obtain receipts for petrol when travelling by private motor vehicle as the cost of making the journey will be paid on a per mile basis based on the total distance between the visitor’s home and the prison.
If the journey is particularly difficult, significantly long or there is limited public transport you may be eligible to claim for some assistance towards the cost of an overnight stay. Other factors will be taken into account when claiming so it is important to check eligibility with the Help with Prison Visits service prior to arranging any accommodation.
The cost of a registered child-minder or breakfast/after school club or similar may be considered if you do not wish to take a qualifying child under the age of 16 to the prison.
How do you apply?
All qualifying visitors should apply online. This is a faster process, and you can add photos of eligibility, receipts, confirmation of visits or rail tickets and get payment within a few days. If you are struggling to get online, you can use the Digital Assist phone line on 0300 063 2100 for advice on how to navigate the online process.
As of 9th March 2020, there will be a new ‘payment into bank account’ option for qualifying visitors who claim help with their costs. Visitors will be encouraged to use this new payment method which is faster and more secure. The existing cash voucher payment option will remain for a limited time but will eventually be phased out.
Is there any financial assistance available for those wanting to visit a young prisoner in custody?
The Youth Justice Board have a scheme available to help families in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income with the cost of visiting a loved one in a Secure Children’s’ Home or a Secure Training Centre. The local Youth Offending Team should be able to provide details of the scheme. The YJB will help pay the costs of one visit per week for up to two adult visitors (aged 16 or above) and up to three accompanying children (aged 15 or below).
This page was updated in January 2020.