Analysis by social justice charity, Nacro, has identified a lack of valid ID as a critical barrier to resettlement and moving away from crime among people leaving prison, leading the charity to urge the government to take action.
Nacro supports more than 30,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the country every year, including those at different stages of contact with the criminal justice system. A lack of valid ID – such as a driver’s licence or passport – in the weeks leading up to, during and after release from prison, is seen by Nacro staff as one of the biggest obstacles people face which has an impact on their chances of moving away from crime. Without valid ID, people leaving prison can face difficulties getting a job, receiving benefit payments as a vital source of initial income to survive, or securing a safe place to stay to avoid homelessness.
Whenever a job offer is received, pre-employment checks require proof of address and the right to work in the UK to be confirmed, which can be done with a passport or birth certificate. Without this ID, job opportunities can be lost or severely delayed. Similarly, presenting as homeless at a local authority or seeking urgent private rented accommodation on release requires proof of the right to live in the UK, which can be proved with a passport or birth certificate and residence card. Without this, securing urgent accommodation will also be difficult.
Nacro Resettlement Worker, Paul, says: “Most of my clients do not have any form of ID when leaving prison. This will be for a number of reasons. They may have been street homeless before being remanded in custody and robbed of their possessions, they may have been evicted from their property and their possessions disposed of, or they may have lived a chaotic lifestyle.”
For many people leaving prison, being able to apply for an advance benefit payment such as Universal Credit is critical. This ensures that essential money is available upon release, but an application cannot be made without proving identity. Where delays in proving identity occur, people can be left with only a £46 discharge grant until the issue can be resolved. This can result in people falling back into familiar patterns of offending behaviour in order to survive.
Nacro Resettlement Worker, Marcus, said: “When there is a delay in getting benefits, even for a matter of days, clients are at risk of reoffending and returning to custody.”
Having a bank account is also critical for many people leaving prison in order to ensure that wages from jobs and Universal Credit payments can be received without delay. During 2017/18, Nacro opened around 650 bank accounts for service users leaving prison that urgently needed them. People that have difficulty showing a consistent address history, such as those on short prison sentences or those who have experienced periods of homelessness, often face problems when trying to set up bank accounts. Upon release, a lack of valid ID will be a further barrier to opening an account, leaving many facing periods of financial difficulty.
‘Martin’s’ story: ‘Martin’ was released from prison with an old passport that was ripped and damaged, which was fortunately accepted by DWP for his Universal Credit claim. However, the damaged passport was not accepted by any banks to enable a back account to be set up, and Martin had no money to pay for a replacement passport. He was out of custody for more than four weeks with no access to a Universal Credit payment. During this time, Nacro Resettlement Workers had to support Martin and provide money for clothes, food and travel. A credit union was finally found that would accept the damaged passport so that Martin could begin to access his Universal Credit payments.
Nacro believes that everyone leaving prison should have valid ID and is urging the government to take action by:
- Ensuring that every person entering prison is asked whether they have valid ID, so that accurate records can be kept to fully understand the size and nature of the problem and to respond
- Setting performance targets and allocating funding to ensure that ID is arranged prior to prison releases
- Ensuring greater clarity for those working across the criminal justice and benefits systems regarding what is accepted as valid ID, particularly for Universal Credit claims
Nacro Chief Executive, Jacob Tas, said:
“The first days and weeks following a person’s release from prison present a window of opportunity, during which the potential and motivation for change is often at its highest point. If this time is filled with obstacles which result from a lack of valid ID, the risk of a return to offending behaviour in order to make ends meet is inevitably increased.
“There is an urgent need for action to stop people leaving prison without valid ID. The difference a focus on this simple and cost effective solution will make cannot be underestimated.”
You can read the Identification for prison leavers briefing here.