FAQs (powers, time commitment, training, promotion)

Got a question about becoming a special constable? We may have the answer below.

About the Specials

 

What is a Special?

Special constables (or "Specials") are volunteer police officers with the same powers as regular officers.

Specials spend around four hours a week, or more, supporting the police to tackle crime in their communities. (Duty hours may vary from force to force.)

Specials are recruited locally by all 43 Home Office police forces in England and Wales. They work in partnership with regular officers and the wider policing family, such as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

   

What powers does a special constable have?

Special constables have full policing powers, unlike PCSOs or police support volunteers.

      

Where can they exercise these powers?

Since 1 April 2007, special constables have been able to exercise their powers throughout England and Wales. This is set out in Section 30(2) of the Police Act 1996 (as amended by the Police and Justice Act 2006), which states: "A special constable shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable throughout England and Wales and the adjacent United Kingdom waters."

These powers do not extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own forms of Special Constabulary or reserve force.

(Until April 2007, special constables were entitled to use their policing powers only within the force area where they served and adjoining force areas.)

     

Eligibility

 

Who can be a special constable?

The basic requirements are:

  • You must either be a national of a country within the European Economic Area or, if not, have leave to remain in the UK free of restrictions.
  • You must be at least 18 years old when making your application.
  • You should be in good health, and of good character.
  • You must be able to speak and write English competently.

For more information, please see the Special constables recruitment eligibility circular.
   

What age limits are there for serving as a special constable?

You must be at least 18 years old at the time of your application. There is no upper age limit for appointment to the Special Constabulary, but all applicants must be physically fit enough to perform the role.
     

Can non-UK citizens still be appointed as special constables?

To be eligible for appointment as a special constable, you should be a British citizen or a citizen of another country that is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland.

If you are not a national of an EEA member state or Switzerland, you must have permission to enter or leave to remain in the UK for an indefinite period. All applicants must be resident in the UK free of restrictions, or have an entitlement to do so.
    

How physically fit do special constables need to be?

Applicants to the Special Constabulary will normally have to take a fitness test. Special constables who are required to complete Officer Safety Training (OST) must attain a level of 5:4 on the multi-stage fitness test. Forces may also require applicants to undergo a dynamic strength test.

      

If I hold political office or take an active part in politics, can I become a special constable?

The position regarding special constables in Home Office police forces is that they should not take an active part in politics. Please see The Code of Ethics for further guidance.

     

If I or a family member have a criminal record, can I serve as a special constable?

Why can my application be rejected because of my occupation?

People who perform certain occupations (e.g. neighbourhood and street wardens, other types of uniformed patrol warden, or those involved in the administration of the law) may be precluded from becoming special constables.

If you, your spouse or a relative holds or has a financial interest in any licence or permit relating to liquor licensing, refreshment houses or betting and gaming or regulating places of entertainment in the area of the police force in question, you may not be eligible for appointment.

Guidance on potential occupations which may preclude you from serving as a special constable is available in the Special constables recruitment eligibility circular. However, the occupations mentioned in the circular do not constitute an exhaustive list - the circular is guidance and not mandatory, so final decisions about eligibility are a matter for the chief officer of the force concerned.

      

How do I join?

Get in touch with your local police force - most forces around the country have someone who can advise you.

       

Specials' activities

 

 

What do special constables do?

Specials take part in frontline police work. They can spend much of their time on the streets, doing intelligence-based patrols in crime hotspots or taking part in crime-prevention initiatives. This could mean anything from keeping town centres safe at night to conducting house-to-house enquiries or helping prevent vulnerable members of the community from becoming victims of crime.

It is hard, demanding work - but from your first time on duty you will see the impact you are having. It is also extremely varied, and you could easily find yourself doing any of the following:

Ensuring public safety

  • Assisting at the scene of accidents, fires or incidents - helping control situations, ensuring people are safe.
  • Providing security and crowd control at major public events - preventing injuries and disorder.

 

Preventing crime

  • Carrying out high-visibility foot patrols to deter and detect criminals.
  • Educating businesses and the community about crime and how to avoid it to reduce crime and people's fear of it happening.
  • Talking to schoolchildren about crime reduction and community safety to help them stay safe and make the right choices.

Tackling crime

  • Confronting anti-social behaviour on the streets such as gangs or intimidating behaviour.
  • Managing alcohol-related incidents such as public drunkenness or violence.
  • Enforcing road safety laws in local communities.

Investigating crime

  • Conducting house-to-house enquiries to gather information and support larger enquiries.
  • Taking part in police operations to disrupt and arrest offenders.

Securing convictions

  • Presenting evidence in court to support the justice system in prosecuting offenders.

      

Can special constables use Tasers or firearms?

The agreed view of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is that special constables should not be issued with Tasers or firearms.

      

Can I become a police driver as a special constable?

There is nothing to preclude special constables from driving police vehicles. However, individual police forces will have their own local policies in relation to the driving of vehicles.

The relevant police regulations make no specific mention of special constables in the context of driving, but there is some incidental legislation around the police use of vehicles - e.g. exempting the police from various obligations and restrictions that apply to ordinary users. These are framed in terms of vehicles "used for police purposes" or "owned by a local policing body", so they would apply to police cars that were driven by special constables as well as by regular officers.

      

Payment and expenses

 

 

Are special constables entitled to be paid?

Unlike members of The Army Reserve or retained firefighters, special constables are volunteers and are not paid for performing the role.

      

Are special constables entitled to receive expenses?

Although they are not paid, specials are provided with uniforms free of charge and are entitled to be reimbursed for any reasonable expenses.

The Home Office has produced guidance which sets out the current position on special constables' entitlement to recompense for expenses incurred.

      

Time commitment

 

How many hours do special constables have to volunteer?

There is no nationally mandated figure in terms of the total annual number of hours of duty that a special constable is required to perform. Forces are free to set their own parameters in terms of the hours of duty they require and how they describe this (e.g. as a weekly, monthly or yearly figure).

Historically, most forces expect members of their Special Constabulary to perform around four hours' duty per week (roughly equating to around 16 hours per month or 200 per year). Forces are able to set their own requirements, although they should be mindful of both the Working Time Regulations (see below) and the possibility of limits on volunteer time that are not applicable to regular officers.

      

Is time spent volunteering as a special constable subject to the provisions of the European Working Time Directive?

Yes. The Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) implement the European Working Time Directives within UK legislation. They cover those holding the office of constable (which includes special constables). This is as a result of Regulation 41.

These regulations implement Council Directive 93/104/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time.

For more information, see the circular on this issue.

      

Can employers be compelled to release their employees to perform duty as special constables?

As special constables are volunteers, they cannot be compelled by law to report for duty (unlike individuals in The Army Reserve, for example). This in turn means that employers cannot be mandated to provide paid time off for Special Constabulary duties in cases of emergency.

     

Training and discipline

 

What type of training do special constables receive?

"Initial Learning for the Special Constabulary" (IL4SC) is a national programme designed to take special constables to the point of safe and lawful accompanied patrol.

Forces are responsible for the ongoing training of their officers, and for making training available to their special constables.

      

Are special constables covered by police disciplinary measures?

Special constables are subject to the Police (Performance) Regulations and the Police (Conduct) Regulations. Arrangements for police misconduct and unsatisfactory performance proceedings are kept under continuous review by the Home Office.

The Police (Performance) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/2631) establish procedures for proceedings in respect of unsatisfactory performance or attendance of members of police forces of the rank of chief superintendent or below (excluding probationers) and special constables.

 

The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/2632) establish procedures for the taking of disciplinary proceedings in respect of the conduct of members of police forces and special constables.

Forces will have their own policies in place (e.g. to address attendance issues) at a local level.

      

Promotion and transfers

 

How is promotion managed within the Special Constabulary?

The process for promotion within the Special Constabulary is a matter for individual forces to consider at a local level. Currently there is not a nationally agreed promotion process for special constables.

     

Can a special constable transfer to a different police force if their circumstances change (e.g. if moving house)?

Guidance is available which sets out a national protocol for the transfer of special constables between police forces in England and Wales. It aims to cover cases where a serving special wants to leave their current force permanently and serve in another force.

The guidance applies to the 43 Home Office forces of England and Wales. It is for individual forces to decide whether to apply these protocols to individuals who want to transfer from the non-Home Office forces.

      

Does being a special constable mean that I can then join the regulars?

The Special Constabulary gives you a great insight into what a career in police work might be like. However, recruitment requirements for regular police officers are different, and being a special constable does not guarantee that you'll meet the requirements for becoming a regular officer.