ESF Information Memo 17/20 - Prisoners on ESF Projects

This memo is intended to provide guidance on the eligibility, recording, period of support, recording and verification of prisoner’s enrolled on projects funded under priority 1 and 2 of the NI ESF programme.

European Social Fund Northern Ireland logo containing text "European Union, European Social Fund, Northern Ireland"
European Social Fund Northern Ireland logo containing text "European Union, European Social Fund, Northern Ireland"

Prisoners on ESF Projects

It also provides instructions on the retrospective identification and verification of prisoners who are currently or have been enrolled on ESF funded projects and the GDPR implications of retaining information on participants within the prison system.  

Eligibility criteria

ESF is primarily aimed at people who are available to work in the job market. The following eligibility criteria apply to people in custody:

  • individuals who are on remand are eligible for ESF support
  • people sentenced to less than three years* can access ESF at any point during their sentence
  • people sentenced to more than three years can only access ESF during the last three years of their sentence.

*Note: for prisoners with an indeterminate sentence (including life prison sentence) projects should use their earliest potential release date as per their parole board hearing.

People sentenced to an indeterminate tariff (including life prison sentence and Imprisonment for Public Protection - IPP) must have regular reviews to determine eligibility status based on the likely length of sentence to be served during the lifetime of the Operational Programme; and when their status changes their eligibility must be reviewed in the context of the bullet points above.

The onus remains on all projects to ensure that procedures are in place to carry out these reviews to ensure all participants currently participating continue to meet the criteria.

ESF support period 

To ensure that these participants receive the maximum benefit to prepare them for education and training and employment after release it is recommended that the participant support period covers the period from enrolment to release date. It is acknowledged that not all projects may be able to comply with this requirement however where possible one to one follow – up activities should continue following a period of classroom support.


The performance monitoring section of the ESIF database has been amended to collate information on prisoners within the eligibility assessment section. When enrolling prisoners projects must tick the prisoner box as shown on the screen print below. This will prompt projects to record the status of the prisoner as either “on remand” or “within 3 years of release date”. Projects must upload appropriate evidence to verify the prison status selected:

Screenshot of Participant Monitoring Information    

Verification evidence

Evidence of the prisoner’s status and subsequent eligibility for enrolment in the ESF project must be independently verified by the relevant prison authority. A declaration (sample included as Annex A) signed by a member of the prison staff which confirms the prison status of the participant should be uploaded to the ESIF database.

Immediate Results Indicators (IRI)

In line with ESF regulations IRI into education and into employment can only be claimed if they manifest on exit or within 4 weeks of exit from the project. If a participant within the prison service exits the project into paid employment within the prison the project may record this as an outcome for monitoring purposes. In such cases the IRI selected must be Into Employment (Support/ Sheltered/ Rehabilitation). It must be clearly recorded on the IRI declaration that this employment is within the prison setting. These outcomes will not be counted for the purpose of reporting to the EC.

Retrospective verification of prisoners  

In line with EU regulations we are required to identify and verify the eligibility of all participants, including prisoners, who have been enrolled on ESF projects. To facilitate this the following actions should be carried out for prisoners enrolled in Call 2:

  • projects should identify all participants who were in prison when enrolled on the project
  • a declaration, Annex B ESF Memo 17/20, should be made for those participants who the project have evidence that they met the  eligibility criteria set out in paragraph 2 of this memo. Projects must retrospectively record these participants as prisoner’s on the ESIF database
  • participants who did not met the eligibility criteria or the project do not have evidence to support this should be recorded separately and the declaration at Annex C should be completed. These participants should not be recorded on the database at this time
  • All  retrospective declarations (including nil returns) in relation to prisoners enrolled on ESF projects (Annex B and C) should be sent to

For prisoners who were enrolled on ESF funded projects in Call 1 a similar exercise should be carried out. Although we acknowledge that as there was no requirement for projects to hold this information it may be difficult to provide information on the status of the prisoner i.e. “on remand “ or “sentenced prisoner” or produce evidence of this. However as a minimum projects must provide details of prisoners enrolled in call 1.

GDPR implications

When retaining data on participants within the prison system projects should be aware of GDPR implication in relation to collecting and storing sensitive data. Projects who enrol prisoners as participants should ensure that:

  • the prison status (remand/within 3 years of release) of prisoner’s is included in the “types of personal data held” section of their privacy notice (PN)
  • no information relating to prisoners, such as convictions, should be collected or retained by the project.

Queries in relation to this memo should be sent to Kathleen McStravick at

Kind regards,

Annie McGowan
Head of ESF Project Delivery Branch
28 July 2020 (updated)

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