The future of the Probation Service Contents


104.Probation Officers in both the NPS and in CRCs are fundamental to the probation service and fulfil a vital role in manging offenders and protecting the public. They are currently working against the backdrop of Covid-19 and a major reform programme, the second in five years. We would like to thank and praise those staff for their hard work and dedication, particularly over the past year.

Staffing Levels

105.Key grades in the NPS include band 3 probation services officers, band 4 probation officers (collectively known as probation practitioners), as well as band 5 senior probation officers. Staff training to be a probation officer work as a probation services officer (PSO) during their training, so a proportion of the probation services officers in post will be working towards the professional probation officer qualification.152153

106.As at 30 September 2020, there were 3,550 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) band 4 probation officers in post, up 192 (5.7%) since 30 September 2019 but slightly fewer (by 63 or 1.7%) than at 30 June 2020. In addition, there were 2,888 FTE band 3 probation services officers: an increase of 303 (11.7%) since 30 September 2019 and of 342 (13.4%) since 30 June 2020. The increase in PSO numbers was as a result of recruitment to PQiP, who join as PSO, during the latest quarter.154155

107.HMPPS’s Workforce Bulletin also notes that “623 probation services officers were appointed, some of whom will be training to become qualified probation officers. This is an increase of 90 (16.9%) compared to the year ending 30 September 2019 and an increase of 173 (38.4%) compared to the number appointed in the year ending 30 June 2020. In the past year, 206 probation services officers left the service. This is a decrease of 48 (18.9%) compared to the year ending 30 September 2019 and no substantial change of 1 (0.5%) compared to the number who left in the year ending 30 June 2020.”

108.Low staffing levels have historically been problematic for probation services. HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted an Inspection on the central functions supporting the National Probation Service in January 2020, which found that for NPS staff (those managing high-risk offenders): “Workloads are high, with 60 per cent of probation officers carrying a workload over the 100 per cent target level and some much more than this. This reflects an ongoing and, in some areas, critical shortage of probation officers, with over 600 vacancies reported in June 2019 across England and Wales”.156 As of 8 December 2020, there were 464 probation officer vacancies.157

109.Commenting on issues with CRCs relating to staffing levels, HM Inspectorate of Probation told us that “Our CRC inspections have found a consistent issue with what staff perceive to be unmanageable caseloads, with more than half of staff interviewed in 2019 saying this was a problem. Two-thirds of the CRC staff we interviewed had a caseload of more than 50. Forty-two percent had caseloads over 60, and significant minorities had caseloads of over 70 and into the eighties.”158 The Inspectorate also note that “proper resourcing for the unified probation structure is vital.

110.In their recent report, ‘Caseloads, workloads and staffing levels in probation services’, HM Inspectorate of Probation found that “when probation practitioners hold a caseload of fifty or more, they are less likely to deliver high-quality work meeting the aims of rehabilitation and public protection. A precise target number for caseload cannot be set as there are too many inter-connected variables in relation to case complexity, the available administrative support, and the interventions and services that can be accessed. However, there was consensus among staff and senior managers that between 50 and 60 cases is the maximum number that can be managed well. “159

The Probation Workforce Programme

111.The new model for probation includes a new ‘Probation Workforce Programme’. HMPPS state that this programme has been created to “take forward work on making sure recruitment is diverse and inclusive, staffing levels are met, staff have the right learning and development and qualifications and opportunities for ongoing career development”.160

112.HMPPS further note that “having an appropriately trained and motivated workforce across the probation system and HMPPS as a whole, is crucial to reducing reoffending and protecting the public” and that “We are developing a target staffing operating model for the new probation model and which will align with the new HMPPS structure. We are considering the recruitment strategy and the right approach for allocating staff to positions within the new structure, and we are continuing to consider the transitional arrangements and costs and the needs around estates/ premises.”161

113.In July 2020, HMPPS published their Probation Workforce Strategy for 2020–2023. The strategy sets out 5 objectives:

114.The MOJ and HMPPS note in their Target Operating Model that their focus is on recruiting and training increased numbers of probation officers to support the service and caseloads. The MoJ and HMMPS state that “By June 2021, we will have significantly increased the number of trainee probation officers we recruit each year to support delivery of the target operating model. Indeed, in 2020/21 alone we have committed to recruiting 1,000 new trainee probation staff. In the following financial year (2021/22), we will increase our recruitment even further to 1,500 trainee probation staff.”163

115.Initially, HMPPS, in its Workforce Strategy committed to increasing the recruitment of probation offices to have a minimum of 1,000 new probation officers in training by January 2021.”164 HMPPS also committed to enhancing qualification routes by improving the existing Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) and testing an accelerated progression pathway from Probation Services Officer to Probation Officer launching in 2020/21.165

116.HM Inspectorate of Probation, told us that:

We welcome the government’s ambition to recruit 1,000 new probation officers and the additional £155m investment in probation in this financial year but that needs to be sustained into the next spending review period. Earlier this year, we reported on the hundreds of probation officer vacancies in the NPS. The problem is especially acute in London and the South East. Staff transferring from CRCs will need specific support to manage high risk of serious harm offenders and a caseload that may include more dangerous cases. All staff need ongoing learning and development to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and experience they need to do the job effectively.166

117.Commenting on Probation caseloads, Justin Russell, Chief Inspector of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Probation, told us that during inspections: “We were finding probation officers with 70 or 80 cases, and you cannot manage risk effectively or do a good job by the people you are supervising if you are managing that many people.”167 Many of our witnesses have noted the importance of addressing workload issues within the new model,168 however some, such as NACRO, express some uncertainty about whether the new model of probation will address some of the workload issues that have been seen under Transforming Rehabilitation, stating that:

It is not clear to us whether workload issues will be resolved by the new model, much will depend on staffing levels. We believe that recruitment and retention of staff may be easier under a unified probation system, as there is the possibility of improving support and career progression for staff, but this will largely depend on the agreed structures. What we can see from the dynamic framework indicative contract values, is that if these are proceeded with then the caseloads for these interventions would have to be enormous and therefore unworkable.169

118.Switchback, although welcoming the new model’s prioritisation of resettlement work and the focus on Probation Practitioners providing trusting relationships with individuals, told the Committee that, in their experience, it “is clear that this aim cannot be achieved without a radical shift in probation staff capacity.”170

119.MTC told us that initially, the transition to the new model may exacerbate staffing issues, for a number of reasons, such as: “CRC employees who transfer will continue to hold their existing caseloads, which are higher than those of their NPS counterparts, for some time; While there’s a commitment to recruit 1,000 new trainee Probation Officers by January next year, this will not solve the significant shortages of experienced employees in particular that will still be apparent at the point of transition.”171

120.Katie Lomas, National Chair, NAPO, noted the knock-on effect the recruitment of 1,000 new probation officers may have on capacity within the probation service initially. Katie Lomas told us that while 1,000 new probation officers sounds good, they have to be recruited, trained and developed, which can take anywhere between 15 months and two years. Once qualified, there is a need to be developed and supported in the role, and she notes the lack of experienced staff available to support them, and those who are have high caseloads, sometimes working at 140% of their capacity.172 She told us that:

the only place the practice training assessors who support people through their probation, training and qualification can come from is the pool of qualified probation officers. When you bring in 1,000 new recruits, you have to have more PTAs to support them. Those PTAs further diminish the number of qualified probation officers who are able to manage the workload.173

121.We spoke to witnesses with experience of being on probation, and they told us that probation officer caseloads were too high, resulting in each probation officer having less time for those they are supervising.174 Phil, one of our witnesses, told us that, if there was one thing he could change about the probation service, it would be Probation Officers’ caseloads. He stated that:

Each probation officer should only have a certain maximum of people, but you should mix their case loads. Don’t give one probation officer all high-risk people, all medium-risk people or all low-risk people. You must mix them so that they get a marker of what is going on in the real world from all angles. If you have lower case loads, you are going to have to have more probation officers, but it is no good saying, “We’ll give you 100 new probation officers by 2023.” It is not in 2023 that they need them; they need them now. I don’t know how you do that.175

122.Our witnesses with experience of being under probation supervision also told us about the importance of peer support and mentoring. Nadia told us that “there needs to be a lot more peer support”176 and Phil; added that “It drives you crazy, because there is a peer support programme in preparation. They actually train people on probation to be peer supporters, but they do not use them. They refer them to another organisation that uses their lived experience in a different way. Why not use the people you are training up in the service you are training them up in? What was the point of the training?.”177 Andy Williams, Head of Involvement, Revolving Doors, emphasised the importance of peer support, telling us that:

I echo everything that people said about peer support. Often, the issue with probation is engagement. Phil mentioned quite a few times that, if people are not ready to change or engage, that is something probation seems to struggle with. Having some element of peer support to be the mediator for the individual and help them access the service would be a big positive change.178

123.Amy Rees, Director General of Probation and Wales, HMPPS, agreed that probation caseloads are too high, and told us that the additional recruitment is designed to bring caseloads down, with the aim of bringing caseloads down by 20% on average in steady state by 2024–25.179 Amy Rees further noted the rationale for this, telling us that:

As you can see from those figures, in theory, we are overstaffed in January already. As you know, it takes quite a while for a trainee probation officer to become a fully-fledged probation officer, and we accept that. At the same time, we expect that demand will not stay flat. In theory, if demand stays flat, we will get to the reduction in case load much sooner. If our predictions are right about how demand will increase, and how the 20,000 police officer recruits change things, we will stay at pace with that demand. We might at some point get ahead of it … The only time we expect to get significantly ahead of demand is 2024–25.180

124.Updating the Committee on the progress of probation’s recruitment drive, Amy Rees told us that: “Five hundred are already in training. We already have a group of about 500 PQiPs in training. Another 500 have been through their assessments and are due to come online in January [2021].”181 It is worth noting that newly qualified Probation Officers and those still in training should have smaller caseloads to facilitate learning, development and oversight.182

125.Additionally, Lucy Frazer, QC MP, then Minister of State for Justice, agreed that peer support and lived experience is “absolutely critical”, and went on to tell us about the MOJ’s commitment to employ more ex-offenders:

In any event, the Ministry of Justice needs to employ more ex-offenders. I have asked the Department to look at all our contracts to see how we can employ more ex-offenders through the private providers we contract with. I have talked about it specifically with Amy and Jim [Barton, Executive Director, Probation Reform Programme, HMPPS]. Amy has committed to employing 150 ex-offenders in probation, which is a great start. On top of that, we will be taking forward from CRCs some fantastic programmes involving people with lived experience. We will not be losing those programmes. The more we can do to get people to be role models and support people, the better, and it is something I am absolutely committed to.183

126.Probation Officers are fundamental to the delivery of probation, and we recognise the important role they play in supporting offenders and protecting the public. The Probation Service has historically faced difficulties with staffing levels, which has resulted in Probation Officers having very high caseloads, affecting their ability to manage risk and support offenders to rehabilitate. The Committee welcome the commitment to an additional 1,000 probation officers, but remain unclear whether this is additional to the existing vacancies. We recommend that the MoJ confirm whether the pledged 1,000 additional probation officers will be in addition to the 464 existing vacancies.

127.We recognise that newly qualified probation officers and those still in training need training, development and support, and should have smaller caseloads, but we are concerned that in the interim, caseloads for qualified probation officers will remain high. While we appreciate that many variables make setting a target caseload difficult, it is clear from Inspectorate research that caseloads of more than 50 affect the quality of work, and thus the ability of probation to meet the aims of rehabilitation and public protection. We recommend that the MoJ commit to ensuring that individual caseloads do not exceed a baseline figure of 50. We recognise caseload numbers may fluctuate below this number, but they should not exceed it. The Ministry should also set out what work is being done to reduce caseloads, beyond the recruitment of additional probation officers and what support is available to staff with high caseloads, to ensure they are able to manage risk for all offenders in their caseload adequately.

128.We are pleased to note the Ministry’s commitment to employing more ex-offenders and welcome HMPPS’ commitment to employing 150 ex-offenders in probation. We recommend that the MOJ and HMPPS set out a detailed timeline for how it will recruit and deploy these ex-offenders.

156 HM Inspectorate of Probation, An inspection of central functions supporting the National Probation Service (January 2020), p 4

157 Q201 [Amy Rees]

158 Justin Russell (HM Chief Inspector of Probation at HM Inspectorate of Probation) (PRO0008)

159 HM Inspectorate of Probation, ‘Caseloads, workloads and staffing levels in probation services’, (March 2021), p 4

162 HMPPS, Probation Workforce Strategy (July 2020), p 5

164 HMPPS, Probation Workforce Strategy (July 2020), p 4

165 HMPPS, Probation Workforce Strategy (July 2020), p 4

166 Justin Russell (HM Chief Inspector of Probation at HM Inspectorate of Probation) (PRO0008)

167 Q6 [Justin Russell]

168 See also: LandWorks (PRO0011)

169 NACRO (PRO0013)

170 Switchback (PRO0024)

171 Tom Yates (External Communications Executive at MTC) (PRO0032)

172 Q103 [Katie Lomas]

173 Q103 [Katie Lomas]

174 See: Q134 [Phil]; Q135 [Nadia];

175 Q131[Phil]

176 Q125[Nadia]

177 Q125[Phil]

178 Q159[Andy Williams]

179 Q173 [Amy Rees]

180 Q206 [Amy Rees]

181 Q204 [Amy Rees]

182 HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2019/2020 Annual Report: Inspections of probation services (December 2020), p 17

183 Q162 [Lucy Frazer]

Published: 23 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement