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Forces owe officers more than 1,000 years of rest days

Top of the table is the Met which owes its officers 176,969 days, or 485 years.
Published - 29/03/2016 By - Erena Laird and Wendy Thomas

Police forces in England and Wales owe their officers 1,117 years of rest days, PoliceOracle.com can exclusively reveal.

The service currently owes constables, sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors 407,698 rest days that have been cancelled by their force.

And the staggering figure – revealed by a Freedom of Information Act Request – will in fact be much, much higher as 11 forces in England and Wales, including Greater Manchester Police, did not reply.

With fewer and fewer police officers available to call on, will these days off owed forever remain in the bank? Will police officers ever be able to take the time off that they are legally owed? How long until the next exigency of duty increases this number?

Police officer rest days can be cancelled for “an exigency of the service”. This is defined "as a pressing need or requirement that cannot be reasonably avoided.”

The could include unforeseen public order situations, court attendance, and essential training.

Where a police officer receives less than 15 days’ notice of the requirement to cancel a rest day, payment or time off (which is at the choice of the officer) at the rate of time and a half is owed. A minimum of four hours should be paid.

Where an officer receives more than 15 days’ notice, the officer should be given a rest day off in lieu that should be notified to the officer within four days of the cancellation.

“Cancelled rest days is the norm now,” one officer from a force in the north of England told PoliceOracle.com. “This means officers are stacking up rest days which cannot be taken, or are taken in place of annual leave. The knock on effect of this is that officers end the year with excess annual leave which the job then say they can't carry over.

“We are constantly covering up the shortage of officers by cancelling rest days and it isn't going to end well.”

According to the Freedom of Information Act request, the Met owed its officers by far the most rest days, at 176,969 - equating to 485 years. It was followed by West Midlands Police with 14,664 days, Lancashire Constabulary with 14,348 days and Northumbria Police with 13,776 days.

“It’s an absolutely shocking figure,” said Rachel Baines, Chairman of Lancashire Police Federation.

“My biggest concern about the number of outstanding rest days is the work/life balance of those officers. So they’ve not been paid for those rest days, they’re still sat in the bank waiting to be taken, and that is not good for officer wellbeing.

“Officers have great difficulty in trying to take time off - repeated requests to go in to have a rest day back and they are quite often being refused, because there’s not enough resources to allow them to have that time off.

“The biggest concern is around people working excessive hours, exhaustion and burnout. So we need to look at a way of working with the force to get those numbers down.”

Mark Bates, an Assistant Chief Constable at Lancashire Constabulary, said the force is “concerned“ at the figure and has “taken steps to reduce the number of rest days we cancel”.

He added: ““The wellbeing of staff is very important and rest days are vital to helping officers remain fit and healthy for duty. Rest day numbers are high as we have reduced staff levels significantly in recent years but continue to face high risk policing operations.

"We try to avoid cancelling officers’ rest days but we are required to police high-risk policing operations such as shale gas inquiries, demonstrations and football matches. Our commitment is to ensure that the public remain safe and certain major events require additional resources to do this.

“As part of our wellbeing approach to help lower the number of cancelled rest days, we have introduced within our force resource management unit new processes to ensure that we manage our resources as effectively as possible, providing a new way to ensure that we meet demand during high-risk operations without resorting to cancelling rest days."

At the other end of the scale, Wiltshire Police only owed its Constables, Sergeants, Inspectors and Chief Inspectors 164 rest days at the end of the year – by far and away the best force in the country that replied to the FOI request.

Next “best” were Northamptonshire Police with 2,330 rest days owed, Warwickshire Police with 3,616 days and Lincolnshire Police with 4,077 days.

According to widely circulated Police Federation guidance on rest days, “very few officers insist on their rest day being re-rostered in accordance with [Police] Regulations. It is the Federation position that you should ask for this to be done.

“When a cancelled rest day is left "in the bank" as a rest day in lieu it has no protection. We are aware that it is often difficult to get that day back due to other commitments and staff shortages and some officers have excessive amounts of rest days in lieu as a consequence of this.

“However, once it is placed back on the roster it has the same protections as any other rest day. It doesn't have less status than other rest days because it is re-rostered and if a manager wants you to work on that day then it has to be for a further exigency. You have to be once again provided with sufficient notice or receive payment if you do not.”

An officer from a midlands force told PoliceOracle: “It's so many because officers are having to come in for court I believe. The sheer number of days owed is absolutely crazy. It is completely impossible to resolve without paying the officers for the days.”

The officer from a northern force added: “My biggest concern is that these banked rest days have no protection under Police Regulations and the force could if they wished simply just wipe them all out for no recompense.”

When you compare the number of rest days owed, to the number of police officers in a force, the worst for owing rest days is City of London Police which, on average owes every one of its 718 officers 7.6 rest days. Gloucestershire Constabulary owes 7.2 days on average to each officer and Cambridgeshire is third worst at 6.8 days. The Met's largest overall number of owed rest days equates to 5.6 days per officer.

John Murphy, lead on health and safety for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “The issue of outstanding cancelled rest days for officers is a very real one. Rest days provide officers with necessary time off to relax, and spend valuable time with their families and loved ones.

“Policing is a highly stressful occupation and every officer is entitled to this time. Unfortunately, it is a long-standing issue that members are often required to work their rest days in order to ensure enough cover is provided to keep the public safe.”

He added: “Where this is an ‘exigency of duty’ we all fully accept this and this is part of what officers sign up for. However, where it is due to poor planning and insufficient staffing levels, it is not acceptable.

“The Federation will continue to work tirelessly to ensure our members are able to have enough rest days between blocks of duty to rest and recover, returning back to work mentally and physically fit to serve the public.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Pay and Conditions, Chief Constable Francis Habgood said: “There are a number of reasons why an officer’s rest day may be cancelled which include requirements to attend court, operational reasons or a specific incident.

“Cancelled rest days should be reallocated within a reasonable timescale to ensure that officers do not work an excessive number of hours and days.

“Being required to work on rest days can be unwelcome and, while it is not always within the control of forces, it should be avoided where possible. We are currently investing heavily in ensuring the wellbeing of our officers and staff, part of which is maintaining a manageable workload and giving officers sufficient rest days.”

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