Occasional paper: The Effect of COVID-19 on Community Payback Order Unpaid Work or Other Activity Requirements

This is an occasional statistical paper examining the effects of COVID-19 on Community Payback Order unpaid work or other activity requirements at Scotland level.

This document is part of a collection


The community payback order (CPO) was introduced by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. There are now ten different requirements which could be issued at the initial imposition of a CPO. Unpaid work or other activity is one of the most common requirements issued by the court. For the purposes of this paper, the unpaid work or other activity will be referred to as “unpaid work”. This requires a person to pay back to their community through their work. The work undertaken, as well as being reparative, should be of clear tangible benefit to the local community. Payback may involve requiring the individual to take responsibility for their own behaviour by spending time, through the "other activity" component of the requirement, on developing their interpersonal, educational, and vocational skills to support long-term desistance from offending. Unpaid work or other activity requirements can be no lower than the minimum of 20 hours and cannot exceed 300 hours. For the ease of reading only, these will be referred to as unpaid work requirements or unpaid work hours.

Local authorities are responsible for delivering and monitoring CPOs that are imposed on individuals who have been given a sentence by the court. During the years which were most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was more difficult for local authorities to deliver CPOs. This was particularly the case for CPOs with unpaid work requirements, which were substantially more difficult to carry out due to national lockdowns and measures to keep people safe during 2020 and 2021.

The Scottish Government started collecting data from May 2020 to look at the changing position of outstanding unpaid work hours. This paper looks at the effect which Covid-19 had on the delivery of unpaid work hours. It does this by creating a mathematical model to try and examine what was happening to outstanding unpaid work hours before, during and after the pandemic. Using a model is necessary, as some of the information required is not available from existing data sources. This means that several assumptions have had to be made and estimates created based on what data is available. The aim of the model is to estimate an upper and lower limit of outstanding unpaid work hours over six years at national level.

The modelling estimates the number of outstanding unpaid work hours that are in the system over six years. The input data is available to the Scottish Government through official statistics and management information from 2017-18 onwards. Estimating outstanding unpaid work hours is complex, as new requirements are always being imposed and existing ones are being completed/terminated over time. There are therefore always requirements that are in progress. One of the most noticeable things about Scotland level data is the sheer volume of hours that are being processed. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, courts issued over 51,000 CPOs. These CPOs contained over 37,000 unpaid work or other activity requirements, with 4.7 million hours. Over the same period, 3.1 million hours were carried out as part of successfully completed requirements. Most of the graphs are measured on a scale of 100,000 hours, as this model is dealing with large volumes of outstanding unpaid work hours.

The model cannot take into consideration the complex structure which local authorities have in place to administer unpaid work hours and the issues faced by local authorities during the pandemic. However, it does try to put management information that was collected into perspective.

Three main assumptions were made to do this modelling at Scotland level.

  • Outstanding unpaid work hours included in the model are reduced at a daily rate until the end date of the requirement (either provided or calculated).
  • The daily rate is the average hours of work undertaken per day between the date the requirement started and the date it ended.
  • A range was created for unsuccessfully completed requirements as to the number of hours actually completed. This is because the data for this was not available at Scotland level. This range covers different completion scenarios from 0% of hours completed through to 100% of hours completed.

It would take considerable time and additional burden on local authorities to provide the information behind these assumptions. This would especially be the case for estimating the hours completed as part of unsuccessfully completed requirements. That would require a national collection going back to 2017-18. As this is a one-off analysis to examine an exceptional time, the decision has been taken that the assumptions made will provide a good approximation. The model creates an upper and lower limit (ie a range) where the number of actual outstanding unpaid hours would lie within. The management information supplied by local authorities shows what is actually happening at a snapshot in time, while the model gives us an illustration of the trends, if the processing of unpaid work hours continued to run as usual over the pandemic.


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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