Joanne Drew, Nacro Housing and Wellbeing Director, contributes to a panel discussion about the future of resettlement services.
Tuesday 7 November 2017
Today I’m going to talk about how we can improve housing outcomes in our through the gate resettlement work that is so important to reducing re-offending and helping people to turn their lives around. We would all agree that the resettlement system is in need of improvement and a review of the whole system with offenders at the heart is necessary. However, the big issue is the shortage of housing that we are experiencing. This year the Secretary of State for Communities has recognised that housing is one of the biggest social justice issues this country faces. The challenges are well known but there is a lack of reliable data about accommodation outcomes for people in contact with the criminal justice system or their future needs, does not help our case in making change.
As homelessness rises and the costs of temporary accommodation escalate, we know that a substantial number of local authorities blanket ban people leaving prison from applying for housing even if they have multiple and complex needs. We currently have a case of a very vulnerable person being supervised by multi-agency public protection arrangements and where the local authority doesn’t see the need for temporary accommodation. We have legal advocates within our free and confidential Resettlement Advice Service that challenge unfair housing decisions. This is something that we must all become better at in the short term.
However, there are prospects for change but in order to make them work to address these issues we need a more strategic approach coming from the criminal justice sector – one that owns the challenge and plays a part in reshaping the system to deliver better housing outcomes.
There are two important areas of government policy in England in which we need to engage at the moment. The first is the review of Supported Housing Funding. A consultation paper has recently been published with a deadline of the 23 January. This deals with the provision of accommodation to people who need additional support before they can make and sustain their own housing arrangements. So this will apply to those that leave prison with a support need – whether that’s a history of homelessness or some other vulnerability.
The new funding arrangements from 2020 will be administered by local authorities and one of the things they need to do is to prepare a strategic needs assessment of demand for supported housing in their area. It will be vital for the criminal justice sector working locally to identify and predict future need for those who have some vulnerability and to present their evidence case to their local authority partner so that it can build this into its planning.
The funding pot will be based on existing provision so the development of new schemes now will set the pot when it comes to 2020. At Nacro we run our National Homes Agency – where we proactively intervene in the private rented sector to make available housing for vulnerable people without the need for rent in advance or the deposits which can pose an additional financial barrier to access. With some initial funding or a placement fee we can take referrals from people with low-level support needs. Expanding this form of provision now to meet actual needs may help to ensure that the true requirements for supported housing are factored into the budgets for the future.
The second ares of government policy is the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is a promising piece of legislation, aimed at reducing homelessness and which comes into force in April 2018. A similar preventative duty is already in existence in Wales from where we can take some learning. It places a wider duty on local authorities to prevent and offer relief to anyone who is at risk of homelessness. This extends the previous 28 day period for ‘threatened homelessness’ to 56 days.
Councils must carry out an assessment in all cases where an eligible applicant is homeless, or threatened with homelessness. This is regardless of whether there is any priority need or possible intentional homelessness. The Duty includes an assessment of an applicant’s case and the development of a personalised housing plan. Exploring locally how this can be linked to existing pre-release work will be important to enlist the commitment of the local authority. A number of authorities have Trailblazer funding to explore innovative ways of implementing this requirement and local authorities have also received some funding for additional burdens.
In conclusion, now is the time for the criminal justice sector to be working at a strategic level and in local partnerships to ensure that these new arrangements best support our needs and help to improve the effectiveness of our resettlement work.
The Homelessness prevention duty is “to take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that accommodation does not cease to be available for the applicant’s occupation”. The relief duty is that the Authority “must take reasonable steps to help the applicant to secure that suitable accommodation becomes available for the applicant’s occupation for at least six months (or such longer period up to twelve months as may be prescribed)”. Both the ‘prevention’ duty and the ‘help to secure’ duty can be ended if the applicant has deliberately and unreasonably refused to co-operate. The local authority still has a duty to house people who are deemed to be in priority need.