Police officers

We examine the unique status of police officers and the implications of that status. We also look at how the terms and conditions of police officers are both determined and changed.

Police officers' unique status

The unique status of police officers derives from the "office of constable" based on an oath of allegiance to the Crown. Police officers are invested with considerable legal powers. They are treated differently to other staff groups in a number of respects.

Police officers are not employees and do not have a contract of employment. Much of the employment legislation that applies to individuals who work under a contract of employment does not apply to police officers (for example unfair dismissal rights under the Employment Rights Act 1996).

Police officers cannot be made redundant but they can be dismissed for gross misconduct or unsatisfactory performance or attendance (see Police regulations).

Some employment legislation applies to police officers even though they do not have a contract of employment. Legislation relating to all forms of unlawful discrimination, health and safety, public interest disclosures and the payment of wages applies.

Terms and conditions of employment are determined by statute in the form of police-specific regulations. For example, disciplinary and related matters such as unsatisfactory performance and poor attendance are covered by procedures laid down in regulations. Changes have been made to the police discipline procedures so that they follow more closely the requirements of the "Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures". However, they are still more formal and complex than those in other sectors.

Organisations that represent police officers, for example the Police Federation (which represents officers up to chief inspector rank), the Superintendents' Association (which represents superintendents and chief superintendents), and the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association (which represents chief officers), are not trade unions and are not subject to the usual statutory provisions regulating employee relations matters. For example, police staff association members do not have the same statutory rights in relation to representation and time off as trade union members. However, employee relations matters are covered in police regulations and include requirements for the number of Federation representatives relative to the number of officers in a force, and a requirement that each force must have a joint negotiation and consultation committee chaired by the chief constable. Police officers cannot strike or take any other form of industrial action.

Traditionally, under the police pension regulations, police officers could retire on a full pension after 30 years' service, although the regulations were amended in 2006 to change pension provision (see Police regulations). As a consequence of further changes introduced from 1 April 2015, officers will normally retire aged 60, going forward. Police pensions are not provided from a pension fund but are financed from revenue budgets. This has created financial problems for some forces. The regulations also include special provisions for officers who have to retire early through injury or illness.

Police officers' unique status creates a number of challenges for HR personnel, for example:

  • a two-tier service with different pay and conditions, training and career paths for police officers and police staff;
  • the existence of a culture based on a disciplined and uniformed service, but where there is also a substantial group of staff who do not conform to this model;
  • the fact that organisational change and downsizing can be managed only by restricting recruitment and allowing natural wastage for police officers, or by making more police staff redundant; and
  • the fact that employee relations issues are complicated by police officers being able to challenge certain decisions through the judicial review process (for example decisions on pay and conditions) and other decisions through an employment tribunal (for example issues related to discrimination).

Most forces have made good progress towards harmonised local HR policies and procedures to foster a "single workforce" approach, but there are a number of practical differences that affect the respective pay and working conditions of police officers and police staff, making this difficult to achieve.

However, the status of the police officers is viewed by many commentators as a key feature that makes the UK police service unique, notwithstanding the challenges that it creates for HR professionals.

Police officers - pay and conditions

The Secretary of State for the Home Office in England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland together decide, on behalf of the Government, on recommendations made by the Police Remuneration Review Body (PRRB) in relation to police pay and conditions. The PRRB was established in September 2014 under provisions in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to provide independent advice to the Government on the pay and conditions for police officers at or below the rank of chief superintendent. Chief officers' pay and conditions are subject to recommendations from the Senior Salaries Review Body.

Prior to the establishment of the PRRB, police officer pay and conditions were subject to recommendations from the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) following negotiations between the "official" side (representing the tripartite partners) and the "staff " side (represented by the police officer staff associations). Many of the terms and conditions outlined in the police regulations (see Police regulations) have been in place for a number of years and there have been only minimal changes other than those to reflect annual pay increases and developments in employment law and practice (for example in the areas of maternity leave and flexible working). The Winsor review recommended that the Government establish a pay review body to replace the PNB, which had historically relied on an index-linked formula to determine pay increases and had increasingly "failed to agree" on attempts to modernise police pay and conditions proposed in the light of public-sector budget reductions and pay restraint.

The PRRB takes evidence from all interested parties, including those groups that were part of the PNB arrangements, as well as undertaking its own research and carrying out visits to forces to gather information and views on pay and related issues. The PRRB's reports and recommendations are on the GOV.UK website. The PRRB published its first report and recommendations on 16 July 2015, in time for the September 2015 pay review date. Consequently, police officer pay for all ranks increased by 1% from 1 September 2015 (see Home Office Circular 026/2015). Another 1% increase applied to police officer pay for all ranks, from 1 September 2016 (see Home Office Circular 011/2016). A 2% pay award, which comprised a 1% increase in basic pay for all ranks and a one-off 1% non-consolidated and non-pensionable pay award to officers at federated and superintendent ranks, applied from 1 September 2017 (see Home Office Circular 002/2018).

On 24 July 2018, following publication of the 2018 PRRB report, the Government confirmed a 2% consolidated increase to police officer pay. The increase is effective from 1 September 2018 (see Home Office Circular 001/2019).

The Police Advisory Board for England and Wales (PABEW) and the Police Advisory Board for Northern Ireland advise on general issues affecting police officers beyond those covered by the PRRB. Generally, these are matters of broad policy that are not necessarily covered in the police regulations and are not binding on police forces. Representation on the PABEW is similar to the old PNB except that the number of representatives is scaled down to enable more discussion and joint working.

Separate arrangements are in place in Scotland where the Police Negotiating Board Scotland (PNBS) will negotiate pay and conditions on a similar basis to the PNB, which covered officers in Scotland. The Scottish Police Consultative Forum will be established to cover those matters not covered by PNBS and previously dealt with by the Police Advisory Board for Scotland.

At local level, forces have their own HR policies and procedures that incorporate PNB/PRRB and PABEW decisions and advice, and, as far as possible, these are harmonised to cover police officers and police staff.

Key elements of police officers' pay and conditions are as follows:

  • There is a pay structure with a separate pay scale for each rank with annual increments, subject to satisfactory performance (see Home Office Circular 006/2015). From 1 April 2015, for sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors, incremental progression is dependent on a rating of "achieved performance" or equivalent in the force's performance development review (PDR) process for the preceding year. The same system applies to constables from 1 April 2016. The College of Policing has produced guidance for forces on PDR standards. From 1 January 2017, police constables' pay progression beyond pay point 3 is linked to the College of Policing's assessment and recognition of competence model (see Home Office circular 011/2016).
  • Officers have a 40-hour working week with no additional premium payments for weekend working, although officers up to chief inspector rank receive a 10% allowance in relation to hours worked between 8pm and 6am.
  • Overtime working is compulsory if a force requires it. Only police constables and sergeants are entitled to overtime pay, which is paid at an enhanced rate, or time off in lieu. The entitlement of inspectors and above to be paid for overtime was bought out some years ago. If they are required to work overtime they are not paid. However, if they work on a rest day they are given an alternative rest day.
  • Shift and working arrangements can be changed at short notice for operational reasons, subject to a complex set of rules about compensation, which depends on how much notice of the change is given.
  • Police officers are covered by the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) and the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833). On 17 December 2015, the Police Federation announced an agreement with the National Police Chiefs' Council that, from 1 January 2016, overtime and other regular additional payments, are to be included in the calculation of holiday pay. The agreement is in response to the ruling in Bear Scotland Ltd and others v Fulton and others; Hertel (UK) Ltd v Woods and others; Amec Group Ltd v Law and others [2015] IRLR 15 EAT.
  • Promotion through the ranks to sergeant and inspector is subject to the completion of examinations and the National Police Promotion Framework. Above the rank of inspector, local promotion procedures apply.
  • Newly appointed police officers are referred to as probationers or student officers and undergo an intensive two-year period of training and supervised experience (or a three-year period where they undertake the police constable degree apprenticeship) before being confirmed in the rank of constable. A probationer's services may be dispensed with at any time during the two (or three) years if their progress is unsatisfactory and the chief constable concludes that they will not reach the required standard to be an effective constable.
  • In August 2014, the College of Policing issued "Job-related fitness tests - implementation guidance" to assist forces in the introduction of compulsory fitness testing for serving officers. With effect from 1 May 2015, and as a consequence of the Winsor review, the Government introduced a system of annual reviews for police officers undertaking limited duties. Forces have the option to reduce police officers' pay (by removal of the "X factor" deployability component) where they are unable to be deployed to full duties (because, for example, they have failed a fitness test).

In addition to basic pay scales and overtime (if payable), one-off bonus payments may also apply. Forces can award these to officers and teams of any rank, for demanding, unpleasant or outstanding work or commitment (up to £100 per officer).

Staff turnover among police officers is generally low and this may be attributable to the police pay structures, pension arrangements, potential career paths and the overall motivation of police officers to serving the community. Most officers stay with their force for the maximum period of 30 or 35 years. However, there are signs of increased movement of officers on transfer between forces, and some evidence that younger recruits are not staying as long in the service because career paths and pension arrangements have become more flexible.

Police regulations

When reference is made to "police regulations" this is typically a reference to the set of key regulations that affect police terms and conditions, including the:

  • Police Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/527) and determinations;
  • Police Pensions Regulations 1987 (SI 1987/257);
  • Police Pensions Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/3415;
  • Police Pensions Regulations 2015 (2015/445);
  • Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/932);
  • Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/1204);
  • Police Appeals Tribunal Rules 2012 (SI 2012/2630);
  • Police (Performance) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/2631); and
  • Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 (2012/2632).

The Police Regulations 2003, as amended, provide for the main terms and conditions for police officers. The Regulations cover:

  • government, which includes ranks, part-time appointments, restrictions on private life and business interests, qualifications for appointment, probationary service, discharge of probationers, personal records, fingerprints and samples (part 2);
  • the duty to carry out lawful orders, duty and meetings of the Police Federation (part 3);
  • pay, including overtime, public holidays, rest days, temporary promotion, sick pay, maternity pay and deductions (part 4);
  • leave (part 5);
  • allowances and expenses (part 6);
  • reckoning of police service (part 7);
  • uniforms and equipment (part 8); and
  • determinations (part 9).

The 2003 Regulations give the Secretary of State for the Home Office the power to make "determinations" under the Regulations. Determinations are included in the various annexes to the Regulations and are normally issued or updated via Home Office circulars. The Regulations give a broad indication that the Secretary of State can determine the requirements or details of a particular area and the "determination" specifies what is required. For example, under reg.10, new recruits must meet minimum eyesight standards as determined by the Secretary of State. The "determination" is in the annex to reg.10 and sets out, in detail, the eyesight standards that are required. This arrangement, whereby the specific details in relation to terms and conditions can be determined by the Secretary of State, allows them to be amended more quickly and easily than if they were contained within the Regulations themselves. This is because new regulations and changes to existing regulations can be made only via parliamentary approval. Determinations have usually been made on the advice of the Police Negotiating Board (PNB), now the Police Remuneration Review Body (PRRB).

Pay scales will normally be updated annually (following recommendations from the PRRB) via circulars issued under the Secretary of State's powers under the 2003 Regulations. Other circulars will cover matters such as allowances, London weighting and vehicle mileage allowances.

In relation to pension provision, officers who joined the force prior to 6 April 2006 have been provided for under pension arrangements set out in the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 (the police pension scheme (PPS)). The Police Pensions Regulations 2006 established a then new police pension scheme (NPPS) for officers who joined on or after 6 April 2006. Under the PPS, officers have been required to contribute 11% of their salary into the scheme and they could expect to receive a pension of two-thirds of their final salary after 30 years' service, with the ability to "commute" (or convert) up to 25% of their pension to a tax-free lump sum. Officers would accrue pension entitlements at one-60th per annum for the first 20 years' service and at two-60ths per annum for each year up to 30 years' service. The 1987 scheme has also provided ill-health retirement benefits where an officer becomes "permanently disabled" through illness or injury, dependent on length of service.

Under the NPPS, officers have been required to contribute 9.5% of salary but the scheme would result in a maximum pension of one-half final salary plus a fixed lump sum of four times annual pension (with an option to convert all or part of the lump sum to pension) after 35 years' service. The scheme also provided for a single accrual rate of one-70th of final salary per annum (ie no accelerated accrual after 20 years). There was a standard ill-health retirement pension based on accrued service at the date of retirement with a top-up enhancement of up to 50% of prospective service up to the age of 55, subject to a maximum of half pay.

From 1 April 2015, the pre-existing final salary pension scheme for officers was replaced by a career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme. New officers will join this scheme. Existing officers already in the 1987 or 2006 scheme will transfer to this 2015 scheme, with varying degrees of protection, dependent on age and service. Under the 2015 scheme, the normal retirement age is 60 and contributions will be between 12.44% and 13.78%, dependent on salary. The Government has published The police pensions scheme 2015 member's guide with more information.

There is also an injury award scheme for officers who are retired or permanently disabled as a result of injury "in the execution of their police duties". This involves a gratuity and additional pension based on loss of earnings capacity. The decision on the level of the award is a medical one and is usually made by the force's medical adviser. Officers can appeal to a police medical appeal board on the failure to grant an award or the level of award granted. The Police (Injury Benefit) Regulations 2006 consolidated the existing scheme and made no major changes. Forces can review injury awards granted from time to time and awards can be changed if medical circumstances change or when the officer reaches normal retirement age (65).

Regulation A19 of the Police Pensions Regulations 1987 allows police forces to require a police officer of the rank of chief superintendent or below to retire "in the general interests of efficiency". For an officer to be retired under reg.A19, they must have served for at least 30 years and be entitled to a pension of two-thirds of their pensionable pay. In Harrod and others v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and others [2017] IRLR 539 CA, the forces in the case had used reg.A19 in response to budget cuts. The Court of Appeal held that the decision to reduce police officer head count "to the fullest extent" by forcibly retiring police officers with at least 30 years' service was justified. The employment tribunal (in Harrod and others v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and others ET/1307406/2011) had held that the use of reg.A19 amounted to unlawful age discrimination and was not justifiable. However, while the Employment Appeal Tribunal (in Chief Constable of West Midlands Police and others v Harrod and others [2015] IRLR 790 EAT) agreed with the tribunal judgment that discrimination potentially occurred when the forces applied reg.A19 to retire police officers, it decided that the tribunal had erred in law in holding that the discrimination was not justified. The discriminatory element arose from statute and not the force's application of the regulation. The Court of Appeal dismissed the officers' appeal. It stated that it was the method of achieving the reduction in the number of police officers that must be justified, and not the number of compulsory retirements. The forces' use of the power under reg.A19 was justified because no other method of selection was lawful.

Discipline and related issues are dealt with by the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012, which follow a system of warnings based on the Acas model for disciplinary processes. The system encourages management action to deal with low-level discipline issues and complaints without the need for formal investigations and hearings, which are now reserved for the most serious discipline matters.

Changes to the police disciplinary process came into force from 1 May 2015. In particular: most disciplinary hearings are to be held in public; police officers who make a protected disclosure under s.43A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ie whistleblowers) will not be deemed to be in breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012; and senior officers' compensation payments may be limited or prohibited in certain disciplinary cases. From 1 January 2016, misconduct hearings concerning non-senior officers must be conducted by a legally qualified chair, a member of a police force who is of the rank of superintendent or above, and an independent member.

From 15 December 2017, and in relation to police officers who leave the force on or after that date, further amendments were made to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 so that, in cases that may amount to gross misconduct, disciplinary proceedings can progress where the police officer leaves while those proceedings are ongoing, or where they have already left when the allegations come to light. This means that, in cases of historic allegations, forces can still take disciplinary action against former officers. See Circular 012/2017 for more details.

The College of Policing has published Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings. See also Circular 017/2018: Updated Home Office guidance on police misconduct.

The Supreme Court, in P v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2018] IRLR 66 SC, held that EU law requires police officers to be able to bring discrimination claims in employment tribunals in respect of dismissals that are the result of police misconduct panel proceedings.

The Police (Performance) Regulations 2012 set out procedures for dealing with unsatisfactory performance and attendance. The Performance Regulations are designed to encourage support and improvement but allow for dismissal where improvement cannot be achieved.

The Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2012 clarify the system for public complaints against the police and the Independent Office for Police Conduct's role.

The Police Appeals Tribunal Rules 2012 deal with the appeal arrangements against local discipline findings under both the conduct and performance regulations. Appeals are to an external appeals tribunal.