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


It is hard to quantify the backlog of unpaid work hours created by the Covid-19 pandemic compared to normal processing. This mathematical model tries to address this question, from the data that has already been provided to the Scottish Government.

Across the years 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, this model shows that the normal level of outstanding unpaid work hours across Scotland was between 500,000 and 900,000 hours at different points in time. These outstanding unpaid work hours represent the minimum lower and the maximum upper limits of the model. The range of 500,000 and 900,000 hours may seem wide, but generally there was a difference of 230,000 hours between the upper and lower values of the model at specific dates in these three years.

This may seem like a large number but during the same period over 3.1 million hours were successfully completed. As in the three years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, courts issued over 51,000 CPOs, of which just over 37,000 (73%) had an unpaid work requirement. In the three years before the pandemic, the model never showed outstanding unpaid work hours of less than 500,000.

This model has many assumptions, but the main area of interest is when it is compared to management data collected during the Covid-19 pandemic. The model smooths out the known backlog of unpaid work hours created by restrictions, as it assumes unpaid work continued to be done constantly during this period. The model does take into account that unpaid work requirements took longer to process in 2020-21 and 2021-22. It also reflects the drop in outstanding unpaid work hours when the courts closed in March 2020 and very few CPOs were imposed. Similarly, it also shows the drop in March 2021 due to Coronavirus Regulations, which reduced the number of hours imposed in some orders, where hours were outstanding, by up to 35 per cent. At this lowest point the model’s range of outstanding unpaid work hours was between 420,000 and 610,000 at April 2021.

The outstanding hours shown by the model can be seen to start increasing after March 2021. There were more CPOs with unpaid work requirements being issued by courts in 2021-22 than in 2020-21. This averaged about 106,000 per month for the financial year 2022-23. Similarly, the management data shows this increase as well.

The management data shows the real backlog created by the pandemic when unpaid work requirements could not take place. The management data is mostly within the model range from April 2021, but it is nearer the upper limit of the model. The upper limit assumes that nearly all unsuccessfully completed requirements had no hours completed, which is unlikely to be happening in reality. This indicates that the backlog created by the pandemic is still influencing the outstanding unpaid work hours but cannot be quantified exactly due the continuous nature of processing of unpaid work and other activity requirements.


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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