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Understanding your licence conditions


Often, with hindsight, people released from prison say that they thought prison would be the hard bit, when in fact it was after prison that they really started encountering problems.

Being released from prison can be a daunting experience. Being released on licence can be even worse.

Given the way that the current legislative/sentencing regime operates, most people being released from prison are released in advance of the point that they were sentenced to serve by the judicial system. This means that there is a large number of people being released from prison “on licence”.

For additional information about supervision in the community after release from prison see here.

We are unable to provide specific legal advice around your own situation, i.e. when your licence should end, when you can be recalled, how you can be recalled, etc.

Licence conditions

If you were sentenced to more than 12 months in prison,but less than four years, you may be released early on licence.

You will also have a licence if you’re out of prison on a home detention curfew (on a tag). Being on licence means that you are still serving a prison sentence but you can live in the community instead of being in prison. Whilst you are on licence, there are rules you must follow. How long these rules apply for depends on the length of your sentence. If you break the rules, you’ll have to go back to prison (be recalled).

Who determines standard determinate sentence licence conditions?

The Parole Board is no longer involved in imposing licence conditions. Governors now have responsibility for including any additional conditions though these must be from the approved list and recommended by Probation. If Probation want to add a condition not listed or a governor is concerned about the need for additional conditions they must seek advice from the Public Protection Unit. The licence is prepared by Custody/Discipline office and should be explained to you at least one week before release.

What if I refuse to sign the licence?

The licence remains lawful irrespective of whether you sign it. If you refuse to sign it, the governor will sign to confirm the conditions have been read out and explained. A copy is given to you on release and further copies are kept on your records at the prison and sent to the police.

How can I challenge my licence conditions?

A complaint about the necessity or proportionality of additional licence conditions imposed can be considered by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. You will first have to complain internally through Prison/Probation.

Are life licence conditions different?

Life sentence conditions are set by the Parole Board but are very similar to the standard conditions. Additional conditions can also be imposed and again are likely to be similar to those on standard determinate sentences.

As a lifer, will I be on licence for ever?

Although the life licence remains in force and you are liable to recall for the rest of your life, you can apply to the Secretary of State (via request to Probation) and request that, as the conditions are no longer necessary, they are cancelled. The supervision or reporting restrictions normally remain in force for around 4 years, though this can be up to 10 years for people convicted of sexual offences, and can remain in force for longer or shorter periods depending on your own case. The Secretary of State will normally refer the case to the Parole Board before cancelling the supervision requirements. Even where there are no longer any supervision requirements you can be recalled for committing other offences etc

Useful resources

Licences and licence conditions (Prison Service Instruction 12/2015) – This explains the various conditions that can be attached to a licence.

Standard conditions of licence

The Criminal Justice (Sentencing) (Licence Conditions) Order 2005 (Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 648) below sets out the standards conditions. An explanatory note for the SI is also available.

(1) The conditions set out in paragraph (2) are the standard conditions prescribed for the purposes of section 250 (1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

(2) The prisoner must-

(a) keep in touch with the responsible officer as instructed by him;

(b) receive visits from the responsible officer as instructed by him;

(c) permanently reside at an address approved by the responsible officer and obtain the prior permission of the responsible officer for any stay of one or more nights at a different address;

(d) undertake work (including voluntary work) only with the approval of the responsible officer and obtain his prior approval in relation to any change in the nature of that work;

(e) not travel outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man without the prior permission of the responsible officer, except where he is deported or removed from the United Kingdom in accordance with the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 [See Article 3 Explanatory note];

(f) be of good behaviour, and not behave in a way which undermines the purposes of the release on licence, which are to protect the public, prevent re-offending and promote successful re-integration into the community;

(g) not commit any offence.

As well as these standard rules, your probation officer might have recommended extra conditions, like not making contact with certain people or not living at the same address as children. Your licence will say what the extra conditions are. If you have to miss an appointment with your probation officer, it’s important to be able to show them proof of the reason. For example, if you are ill, get a doctor’s note. Examples of conditions are listed below:

(1) Conditions of a kind set out in paragraph (2) are prescribed for the purposes of section 250(2)(b)(ii) and (4) (b) (ii) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

(2) The conditions are those which impose on a prisoner:

(a) a requirement that he reside at a certain place;

(b) a requirement relating to his making or maintaining contact with a person;

(c) a restriction relating to his making or maintaining contact with a person;

(d) a restriction on his participation in, or undertaking of, an activity;

(e) a requirement that he participate in, or co-operate with, a programme or set of activities designed to further one or more of the purposes referred to in section 250(8) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;

(f) a requirement that he comply with a curfew arrangement;

(g) a restriction on his freedom of movement (which is not a requirement referred to in sub-paragraph (f));

(h) a requirement relating to his supervision in the community by a responsible officer.

(3) For the purpose of this article, “curfew arrangement” means an arrangement under which a prisoner is required to remain at a specified place for a specified period of time which is not an arrangement contained in a condition imposed by virtue of section 37A(1) [See Article 3 Explanatory note] of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 Act or section 250(5) of the Act.

You can apply to your probation officer to change your conditions. For example, if a curfew would mean that you can’t take up a suitable job, the hours of your curfew could be changed.

Supervision and support whilst on licence

You should be allocated a supervising probation officer who will supervise you on release. The supervising officer must ensure that a first appointment is arranged for the day of release (or next working day).

It is stated in PSO 4700 that the supervising probation officer has to ensure that arrangements are made for weekly contact for the first four weeks following release. In addition one contact has to be a visit to the home address within 10 days of release. Contact should comprise a minimum of fortnightly for the second and third months following release and thereafter monthly.


You won’t be considered for early release until you have a suitable address. This could be with friends or family or at a hostel. You might get help from the council to pay for your accommodation. You aren’t allowed to move without permission from your probation officer.


You aren’t allowed to take a job unless your probation officer approves of it. There are rules about declaring your criminal record when you apply for a job. For some jobs, such as working with children, disabled people or other vulnerable people, you’ll always have to declare all your criminal convictions.

It is stated in the Lifer Manual that the supervising probation officer must consider advising certain third parties of the nature of the offence and implications of the supervision process including conditions. In the case of partners, employers, educational providers and accommodation suppliers the presumption is in favour of disclosure. The preferred approach is for the licensee to disclose this information themselves.


There is a presumption in favour of disclosure by probation to partners of the licensee.


The prison isn’t responsible for your healthcare if you’re serving your sentence in the community. Unless getting treatment is one of your conditions, it’s up to you to get any healthcare you need. When you leave prison, it’s a good idea to register with a GP.

Travelling abroad whilst on licence

You have to get permission to travel abroad, and all people on licence face restrictions on travelling abroad whilst on licence supervision in the community. We have put together some information for people in this situation within our section on travel abroad.

If you break the rules – Recall

You can be sent back to prison if you break the rules.

First of all, your probation officer will look at your case. They might give you a warning or they might decide you should go back to prison. If they think you should go back to prison, they’ll ask the Ministry of Justice to order you to return to prison. This decision can be taken very quickly – in emergency cases, the decision can be taken within two hours. You’ll be arrested and taken straight to prison. This would usually be your local prison, not necessarily the one you were released from.

If you committed another criminal offence while you were out on licence, you’ll go to court for that offence. If you’re found guilty, the new sentence will be added on to your old sentence.

If you’re sent back to prison for breaking your conditions, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. You might get Legal Aid.

A licence can be revoked at any time and the licensee recalled to prison by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the parole board. If the licence is revoked, the licensee is immediately recalled to prison to continue her life sentence. The licensee must be informed of the reasons for the revocation of the licence and has the right to make representations to the Parole Board in an oral hearing.

In deciding whether to recommend the recall of a lifer the Parole Board should consider:

  1. whether the licensee’s continued liberty would present a risk to the safety of the public and if the licensee is likely to commit further imprisonable offences;
  2. the extent to which the licensee has failed to comply with the conditions of the life licence and otherwise failed to cooperate with the supervising officer;
  3. whether the licensee is likely to comply with the conditions of the licence and supervision if allowed to remain in the community.

The Parole Board take account of the supervising officer’s recommendation as to whether the licensee should remain on licence.

Problems if you’re sent back to prison

You may have problems if you’re sent back to prison, for example:

  • there’s a delay before the prison gets information about you
  • you don’t how long you’ll have to stay in prison. However, you should be given an information pack explaining how to appeal to the Parole Board
  • if you’re not sent back to the same prison, you may not know how the prison works. However any differences between the prison where you used to be and your current prison should be explained to you
  • you may lose your right to Housing Benefit after 13 weeks of being back in prison.

If you aren’t sure why you’ve been taken back to prison or if you have any other problems, get specialist advice.

Other information

In order for the conditions to be lawful they must be both necessary and proportionate to the needs of protecting the public and preventing  re-offending. Necessary means that no other means of managing a particular risk is available or appropriate; and proportionate means that the restriction on the offender’s liberty is the minimum required to manage the risk.

Licence conditions are not designed to be punitive, and are designed for risk management and public protection purposes, see R (on the Application of Carman) -v- Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWHC 2400 (Admin). Further, they are subject to the scrutiny of the Administrative Court by way of Judicial Review due to the principles of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality.

Further, they may infringe an offender’s Human Rights and the most typical is their right to a private and family life pursuant to Article 8 (1) ECHR. The State is entitled to interfere with Article 8 rights in accordance with Article 8(2), so long as it is in pursuance of legitimate aims, but only if reasonable and proportionate to those aims.

Thus, providing the proposed conditions correspond with a legitimate purpose, any corresponding interference with the Claimant’s Article 8 rights will be justified so long as that interference is reasonable and proportionate to the stated Purpose. Once again these issues can be resolved in the Administrative Court. If an offender breaches the terms of their licence, they render themselves liable to be returned to prison and will not be released unless the Parole Board directs it. The power to recall lies with Probation Service therefore it is essential that the conditions in place are necessary, proportionate to manage risk.



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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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