When someone is released from prison they need stability and security to get their lives back on track. Too often they are released with nowhere to go.
People leaving prison are at high risk of homelessness for a number of reasons, they may have been homeless before entering prison, are dependent on drugs or alcohol or simply are unable to get support finding the right sort of accommodation on release. This section explains the links between homelessness and people leaving prison.
People often lose accommodation when they enter custody. On release they can struggle to find accommodation with a private landlord or get the housing element of Universal Credit quickly enough. Sometimes they can wait up to nine weeks for payment.
If someone leaving prison does go to their local council, they are likely to be turned away as they are not classed as ‘priority need’. Local authorities therefore say that they have no obligation to help them.
Changes to the Shared Accommodation Rate also makes it difficult for someone leaving prison to access the sort of accommodation they need to get back on their feet. Someone who is under 35 will only be entitled to housing benefit which covers the cost of rent in shared accommodation. This isn't suitable for someone leaving prison as they generally need stability, a level of independence and a degree of space. There might also be potential security and safety issues about living with other people.
For example, when a remand prisoner is bailed at court in England without prior notice, there often isn’t enough time for them to have their housing needs assessed. They will receive £47 on average as a discharge grant. If they have secured temporary accommodation for their first night on release, they may also apply for an extra grant of £50 which will be paid directly to the accommodation provider. However, in high cost areas such as London £50 does not go very far.
As a result people often quickly become ‘hidden homeless’ (living in unsuitable temporary accommodation, sofa surfing or squatting) or sleep rough to avoid going back to an unstable family home.
The scale of the problem
We know that this is a rising problem. The Howard League's No Fixed Abode report (PDF) found that around a third of people about to leave prison said that they had nowhere to stay. The Rough Sleeping in London report (CHAIN) showed that a third of people seen rough sleeping in 2015 to 2016 had experience of serving time in prison. In our Nations Apart report (2014) we found that out of 480 single homeless people across Britain we spoke to, 41% of them had served a prison sentence at some point.
People leaving prison are known to re-commit crime to avoid homelessness. Having stable accommodation can reduce the risk of re-offending by 20% (see Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, ICPS, 2002, P94). As reoffending can cost the economy £13.5bn annually, we urge the government to make preventing homelessness in prison leavers a priority.
We believe that early interventions can help people leaving prison get back into society and prevent homelessness.
We are calling on the government to fund Help to Rent schemes across England. These schemes work with landlords and tenants to help create homes that last. A landlord gets the assurances that rent is paid and their property looked after, whilst the tenant receives tenancy training and ongoing support. (See more about our Help to Rent programmes.)
We are also asking for a national rent deposit scheme. Saving up for a deposit can be one of the biggest to barriers to finding a place to live. A rent deposit scheme would help someone to get into accommodation faster so they could start to rebuild their life. The government's Help to Buy scheme helps people to get the deposit for a mortgage. It is only fair that a homeless person could get a deposit to rent privately.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords will stop people leaving prison in England from becoming homeless. The Bill will put an obligation on local organisations (including prisons and probation services) to refer people to the local authority if they are at risk of homelessness. (Read more about about our No one turned away campaign.)
We deliver our Renting Ready pre-tenancy training course in prisons. The course helps people to understand how to find a home to rent from a private landlord and offers other skills such as living on a limited budget, looking after a home and managing relationships with landlords and flatmates.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness held an inquiry into how to prevent prison leavers from becoming homeless. The group heard evidence from the deputy governor of High Down Prison, the homelessness lead for Exeter Council and two prison leavers who had been homeless. The session was well attended by both MPs and Peers and gave the APPG officers an opportunity to hear more about the issue and possible solutions. You can read minutes from the session (Word). The recommendations on this topic will be published in the end of year report in July 2017.
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