- There are quite a lot of services in prison and outside which help people to find somewhere to live
- Housing problems are not always easy to sort out – allow lots of time, and keep going back till you get something sorted out
- It’s better not to go to lots of different organisations for help at the same time
- If you think that someone has ignored an important fact about your situation, tell them, or ask how to appeal against their decision
It is well understood that housing problems cause huge difficulties for people who have convictions, and that a lack of housing gets in the way of people being able to move forward with their lives and leave their offending behind them. Sadly, this does not mean that it is made easy for people with convictions to find somewhere to live, though in some areas there have been big efforts put in to improve matters.
There are some very good arrangements made in a few prisons to help people, such as a monthly session which all local housing providers come to, and befriending and through the gate services which meet people before release from prison and help them to find a place to live, and take them there on release. There are also organisations outside prisons helping with finding and keeping housing.
Getting help in prison
Housing advice services
There should be a housing advice service in every prison. These are run by organisations such as Shelter, Nacro, St Giles Trust, Foundation, St Mungo’s, or Depaul UK.
They are likely to be in the prison every week, but not every day. In most cases, you need to book an appointment with them. They may ask if you want an appointment if you have said at induction that you will probably have nowhere to live on release. Otherwise, it is up to you to request an appointment. It is worth doing this at least 6 weeks before you are due to leave.
A few housing advice services have prisoners working with them. They have been trained to help other prisoners, and usually do things like helping them to write letters or to fill in forms. They can be a good source of information for other prisoners who need help with housing.
Citizens Advice staff often work in prisons and can advise prisoners about their housing rights, how to end a tenancy, or how to find somewhere to live, though they are usually benefits experts rather than housing experts.
Often, resettlement officers build up quite a lot of knowledge about housing on release.
People in the drug teams (DART or Integrated Drug Treatment Service teams) may have links to local housing services, and it is often part of their role to help people leaving prison to sort out their housing problems.
Other groups may help with housing as well as other issues, such as church groups and voluntary organisations. Look out for their leaflets in prison, or ask your Offender Supervisor or Manager if these groups help with sorting out housing problems.
Mentors, befrienders, and through-the-gate schemes
These are all schemes aimed to help prisoners to cope when they leave prison. The scheme may help with finding housing and plan to give the person support for a while after they leave prison. It’s possible that a mentor or befriender may be someone who has been an offender themselves, and now wants to help other offenders with practical help and advice. Through-the-Gate schemes do help with housing, and will arrange to meet prisoners at the gate when they leave, and will take them to their accommodation, or to get help with finding somewhere to go if they have not yet got anywhere to live.
Getting help in the community
Probation teams may bring in housing advice services to their offices, to help people with housing problems. The service is likely to be available on particular days of the week in each probation office, and appointments may need to be made in advance. Some provide advice over the phone or through Probation Officers. Some areas fund other organisations to provide this service – for example, in Kent the Kent, Surrey, Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company has three contracts to provide ‘accommodation, aid and advice‘ service.
A few Probation Trusts have links with private landlords or with supported housing organisations, and also have rent deposit or bond guarantee schemes to help people get started in private rented properties. Support from a Probation Officer to say that you are able to manage a tenancy is useful, particularly if the Probation Officer can say they will give you support and help you if there are any problems.
Youth Offending Teams or Services
Most Youth Offending Teams have someone who takes the lead on helping to solve housing problems, or acting as a link with housing experts.
Council Housing Options, Housing Advice, or Homelessness services
Your local council must offer you advice if you are homeless or think you might become homeless. They have a duty to prevent people becoming homeless. They should see anyone who is actually homeless (without a roof over their head) on the day that they ask for help. For anyone who thinks they may become homeless, the council should make sure you see someone before you do lose the accommodation you have now, as long as it is within 4 weeks of the date when you think you will lose the accommodation.
Council services will ask about your history – where you have lived and why you left there – and what your needs are. If you need somewhere to live urgently, supported housing may be the only quick solution. Not all supported housing is in hostels, and more is now self-contained. Staff there will help you to find long term accommodation, and support if you need it.
Council services may offer you a list of hostels and Bed & Breakfast, but they are expected to do more than this to help you find somewhere you can stay, and somewhere that is suitable to your needs.
More and more Councils have put their housing advice services into Customer Services Centres. If the general help that a Customer Services person is giving you is not likely to help you to find somewhere to live when you need it, ask to see someone who is more of a specialist. Find the details of your local council here.
Drug services and Drug Intervention Programme teams
Drug treatment providers are not usually experts in housing but they should be able to refer you to someone who is. A few DIP teams have a housing or resettlement worker, and they usually have very good links with housing providers. Recovery centres and other places and support groups used by people who have had drug or alcohol problems will also link people into housing services, and may provide some help to sort out housing issues.
Other advice services
There are Citizens Advice Bureaux in every major town and city, and some in smaller places too. They are not housing experts but have very good information about how to solve housing problems, and about housing and benefit rights. Other advice services may exist in your area – ask at the library or at the council where you can get the help you need, or use one of the websites below:
Shelter has offices for the whole of England and Wales. It also has a helpline (0808 800 4444) which is open 8am-8pm Monday-Friday and 8am-5pm Saturday-Sunday (calls are free from UK landlines and main mobile networks).
Nacro has a Resettlement Advice Service offering confidential advice for serving or former prisoners, and other ex-offenders. Nacro itself provides a number of housing services across the country. The phone line is open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm on 0300 123 1999 or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.