paybackAlthough some unpaid work was well managed and well delivered, much of it was simply not good enough, and its potential to rehabilitate was not always exploited, said Paul Wilson, Chief Inspector of Probation. Today HM Inspectorate of Probation published a report on unpaid work, the most frequently imposed requirement of a community sentence.


The report, A Thematic Inspection of the Delivery of Unpaid Work by HM Inspectorate of Probation relates to findings from inspections undertaken between June and July 2015. In 2014, 70,171 unpaid work requirements were made, making it a requirement of slightly more than half of all community sentences. In comparison, in 2014 there were 91,313 receptions into custody. In addition to the sheer number of requirements made, unpaid work also facilitates the greatest length of time that an offender is likely to be in close contact with a member of probation staff. It therefore creates a significant opportunity to engage positively with an offender over a lengthy period. This time should be used to contribute towards helping to reduce reoffending, as well as delivering punishment.


Inspectors were pleased to find that:


  • most areas were able to meet the requirement to offer all offenders seven hours of unpaid work per week, although where they were eligible for intensive unpaid work (if offenders were unemployed), this was rarely fully available;
  • work of a very high standard was being done on some sites in most areas;
  • where high quality tools and equipment were used, offenders were more likely to say that they had learned new skills;
  • overall the types of work being undertaken seemed appropriate and offenders were correctly credited with the hours that they were under supervision; and
  • despite the fact that few offender managers had discussed how unpaid work could assist them in leading better lives, a significant proportion of offenders were determined to view their sentence positively and desist from future offending.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:


  • although two-thirds of the sample had their first work appointment arranged within two weeks of sentence, nearly one-fifth had not been arranged within the first three weeks, which was unacceptably high;
  • although half of the areas inspected offered some offenders the opportunity to use a portion of their hours to achieve relevant education or training with further education providers, few offenders were using any of their hours in this way;
  • ensuring that the correct number of offenders attended the muster points was problematic in nearly all areas, as not all offenders scheduled to attend would turn up. However, scheduling more offenders to attend than could be managed could mean managers having to find a way of allowing them to work or ‘stand them down’;
  • there was very little consideration by offender managers of how unpaid work could contribute to the broader aims of probation intervention, notably that of desisting from crime; and
  • where offenders failed to attend, in too many cases, there was insufficient evidence to justify the decision that an absence was acceptable.


In order to drive improvements, inspectors made fifteen recommendations. These included a recommendation that Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) should redouble their efforts to minimise the frequency that offenders are turned away from work when they have reported on time, and should increase the proportion of offenders that have their first work session within 14 days of sentence. Both CRCs and the NPS should ensure that they create a sentence plan that describes the objectives of the unpaid work which match the circumstances of the offender.


Paul Wilson said:


“We judged that the overall quality of the delivery of unpaid work varied significantly. Although we found some high quality management and delivery, much of it was simply not good enough, lacking in focus on the basic requirement to deliver and enforce the sentence of the court. Whether this situation was inherited from Probation Trusts or is of more recent origin, this report should signal the need for urgent remedial action.

“At a time when government policy prioritises work to reduce rates of reoffending, this report raises important strategic and policy questions about the rehabilitative potential of unpaid work. It appeared in most cases that unpaid work was simply viewed as a punishment that was being administered by a separate group of probation staff. We felt this was a wasted opportunity.”


A copy of this report can be found on HM Inspectorate of Probation’s website at from 12 January 2016.