I will be homeless on release from prison. What are my options?

Family and friends

Most people leaving prison return to family or friends, at least in the short term. If your relationships with family and friends have broken down, it is possible to rebuild bridges, perhaps with the help of prison staff. If your family and friends can see that you have made progress in prison, perhaps in terms of addressing past issues, then they might be more prepared to help you on release. It is very difficult to secure housing on release as waiting lists are long, so it is very important not to dismiss this as an option.

Emergency housing options

If you need somewhere to stay in an emergency, your options include:

You can find details of local night shelters, direct access hostels and day centres here. Alternatively, you can contact our Resettlement Advice Service on 0300 123 1999 for advice.

Council

If you are applying for housing as a single, homeless person, the council will provide very limited support unless you are assessed as being in a priority group. This is because there is a shortage of council and housing association places, which means that the council can only provide housing to the most vulnerable people.

It is still worth writing to your local council up to 28 days before your release, in case you are one of the few who will qualify for housing. If you do not qualify, the council will still provide information about other local housing options which might help you to find accommodation.

Supported housing providers

Supported housing can offer you specialist support to address specific issues that may have led to your imprisonment or to help you with living independently and adjusting back into the community. Varying levels of support can be provided, depending on the type of accommodation service and your needs.

You will usually need to be referred to supported accommodation, perhaps by your offender manager or other support worker. Supported accommodation is not easy to obtain but it is generally easier to secure than council housing. Some projects have waiting lists in operation and will usually prioritise applicants according to how great and/or urgent their needs are.

Private renting

The main advantage of private rented accommodation is that you will have a greater degree of choice in terms of location and type of property. Private rented accommodation is an obvious choice if you have some savings. It is also something that your family and friends can help you to look for and, where possible and necessary, lend money for in order to secure a property.

Your local council might also be able to give you advice about what is available in your local area and how you can get help with paying the rent.

I have nowhere to live on release from prison. Will the council house me?

In most cases, the help you will get from the council will be extremely limited and will involve quite a lengthy decision-making process. To qualify for housing as a homeless person, you will usually have to meet all of the following criteria:

  • Be eligible for assistance (for instance, to come from the UK and not be an asylum seeker or have limited rights to remain)
  • Be in a priority group
  • Be unintentionally homeless
  • Have a local connection

Priority groups

Unless you are returning to Wales, you will not be considered a priority just because you have been in prison. You will need to provide evidence of vulnerability. Prison and probation staff may be able to support your application. Even if the council decides that you are vulnerable due to time spent in prison, it may decide that you became intentionally homeless by committing a serious crime in the first place.

You automatically have a priority need if you’re in one of these situations:

  • You have children: You’re currently pregnant or have at least one dependent child
  • Your home was destroyed: You’ve lost your home altogether or can’t currently stay there because of fire, flood or other disaster
  • You’re under 18: Anyone under 16 or 17 has a priority need
  • You’re under 21: You qualify if you’re 18-20, have been in care at some point since your 16th birthday, and you’re not a student needing accommodation outside term time

You could also claim you have a priority need if you’re vulnerable for one of these reasons:

  • Illness or disability: You have a physical disability, a mental illness, a learning disability or a serious health problem
  • Violence or threats: You’ve left your home due to violence or threats of violence from people inside or outside your home, such as family members or neighbours
  • Other vulnerable situations: You’ve recently left care, custody or the armed forces

Assessment of vulnerability

The UK Supreme Court recently handed down judgment in three conjoined appeals – Hotak and others (Appellants) v London Borough of Southwark – which has changed the way Local Authorities assess and make a decision on vulnerability in housing.

The new law covers the following:

  1. Amending the assessment of ‘vulnerability’

Before this change, local authorities used the 1998 Pereira Test, a High Court ruling which defined a homeless person as “being less able to fend for oneself, if homeless, than any ordinary homeless person”. As a result, people who would usually be considered vulnerable as a result of serious physical and mental health needs, chronic illnesses or fleeing violence or abuse, were left without help in the form of emergency or temporary accommodation.

Many homeless people have mental and physical health needs or have experienced some sort of abuse or violence especially while on the streets. Comparing vulnerability with another homeless person raised the bar very high and made it difficult for someone who would usually be considered vulnerable to be accepted as such by the local authority.

The Supreme Court ruling has clarified that the assessment of vulnerability should be against an ‘ordinary person’ becoming homeless, not an ‘ordinary homeless person’.

  1. The issue of whether, or how far, support from others should be considered when assessing vulnerability

Where the applicant has, or will have, support available to him/her, if homeless, it would be wrong to ignore that support and simply focus on whether they are less able to fend for themselves. That person will not be classed as vulnerable because they have support in place.

The council has to be satisfied “as a fact” that support will be available to the applicant if they are homeless, and that such support will be available on a consistent and predictable basis.

The council will need to carry out some investigation to identify the applicant’s support needs, find a provider to meet those needs and ascertain if that provider would offer consistent support even if that individual was to be homeless. The council will decide whether the available support will be enough to prevent the individual from harm if homeless.

  1. Whether the Public Sector Equality Duty in Equality Act 2010 has an effect on determining priority need by a disabled applicant (or one with other protected characteristics)

The local authority has to consider additional harm caused by the special reasons which would otherwise occur if the applicant were to become homeless, taking into account Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. This applies to applicants under a disability or who have other relevant protected characteristics. They should consider:

  • The extent of such disability
  • The likely effect of the disability when taken together with other features of the applicant if and when homeless
  • Whether the applicant is, as a result, ‘vulnerable’

Further information about this can be found here.

Unintentionally homeless 

To receive help from the council you must be unintentionally homeless. If you chose to leave a home that you could have stayed in or it was your fault that you lost your home, the council is likely to decide that you have made yourself intentionally homeless and will therefore have no duty to help you. The most common reasons for being deemed intentionally homeless are supplying drugs, not paying rent and consequently running up arrears and, occasionally, committing a crime and risking imprisonment and consequently homelessness. If you are assessed as being in a priority group but have made yourself intentionally homeless, the council might give you temporary accommodation for a short time (a few weeks) while you find your own accommodation.

Local connection 

If you are eligible for assistance from the council, are in a priority group and have been made unintentionally homeless, the council will need to decide if you have a local connection to the council area to which you have applied.

You are likely to be considered to have a local connection to an area if:

  • You have lived in the area for six out of the last 12 months, or three out of the last five years. Time spent in prison in an area does not count towards this.
  • You have a close family member living in the area and this member has lived there for a minimum of five years, and is still resident (a close family member is defined as a mum, dad, sister, brother, or adult child).
  • You have secured work in the area and have an employment contract.

Each council may have other criteria that they will consider, so it is a good idea to check with the council to which you are applying. For example, some councils will consider you to have a local connection if you are currently living in the area or if your children attend school locally.

If you do not have a local connection to the council area to which you have applied, the council may refer you to another area where you do have a local connection. The council for that area will then have to help you.

If you do not have a local connection anywhere, perhaps because you have been in prison for a long time or have no relatives in the UK, you can apply to any council and it will normally be the case that the first council you approach for rehousing will have a duty to help you.

If the council decides that it is not your fault that you are homeless, that you are in a priority group and you have a local connection, they will then have to help you secure permanent housing. However, due to the shortage of council housing available and the numbers of people who are eligible for assistance, you may have to stay in bed and breakfast or other temporary accommodation for a long time before you are offered anywhere permanent.

What kind of housing will I receive from the council if I am homeless?

If the council accepts that you are homeless, entitled to help, are of priority need and have a local connection, they may offer you temporal accommodation in an emergency such as bed and breakfast or a hostel. While you are in temporal accommodation, you will be allowed to bid for council and Housing Association tenancy or you may be assisted to secure housing within the private rented sector.

Can I get temporary/emergency housing while the council is considering whether I am homeless?

Sometimes, the council will provide temporary accommodation while they decide what kind of duty they owe you. Temporary housing will not be provided where the council can be satisfied from the initial interview that you are not homeless or have priority need in housing.

Please note that if the council provides temporary housing, this is not accepting on any ongoing duty, it is only while the application is assessed.

I have served a prison sentence. Will I be considered to be in priority need as a result of being in prison?

Serving a prison sentence does not automatically make you priority for housing. Your council will carry out a priority need and vulnerability assessment on you like every other homeless person. If you fulfil all the other categories i.e. homeless, have recourse to state support, have a local connection to the area and are vulnerable as a result of physical or mental health needs,  disability or one of the protected characteristics, the council may classify you as vulnerable and in priority need. Please note that if you are able to evidence that you are institutionalised, as a result of being in prison, you may be accepted as vulnerable and therefore offered accommodation by the council. If your council is not satisfied that you are in priority need, they will not have a duty to provide you accommodation but will provide you with housing and benefits advice.

I consider myself vulnerable. Will the council have a duty to house me?

The council will carry out their own vulnerability assessment and make a decision on whether they believe you are homeless due to your particular circumstances.

I gave up my council tenancy when I went to prison. Will I be considered as priority when I am released from prison?

It depends on the agreement you had with your council. If you had a documented agreement that they will rehouse you upon release if you give up your accommodation, then they should be able to house you.

In most cases, people who give up their tenancies with no agreement with the council have to go through the homelessness application process, and a full assessment on priority need and vulnerability will be carried out. If the offence was related to the property, you will not normally be considered as priority need as you are considered to have made yourself intentionally homeless. In most cases, councils treat people who lose their accommodation as a result of going to prison as making themselves intentionally homeless.

I was evicted by my council for rent arrears while in prison. I am vulnerable due to health condition and disabilities. Will the council offer me housing because of my ill health and disabilities?

When you make a homelessness application your local authority will carry out a full assessment. They may accept that you are vulnerable but refuse a duty to house you because you made yourself intentionally homeless by going to prison and having rent arrears.

I have a child. Would I be considered as priority by the council?

People with children fall under the priority need category but the council will ensure that you did not make yourself intentionally homeless, i.e. have rent arrears or were evicted due to  anti social behaviour. Please note that you must have parental responsibility for the child, i.e. the child resides with you full time and you receive child benefit for the child.

If the council finds that you made yourself intentionally homeless they may refuse a duty to house you.

Also, if you are not eligible for state support or benefits, they may not assist you. They should refer you to Social Services, who will be in a position to assist you. 

My child was taken into care when I went to prison. Would the council consider me as priority so I can get my child back?

The council will consider your homelessness application as that of a single person with no child as the child is not legally residing with you at the time of application. Assuming you fulfil all the other criteria you will have to, in your own rights, be considered as vulnerable and in priority need for the council to have a duty to house you.

I have been accepted as priority need and vulnerable by my council but I would prefer to live in another area for a fresh start. Will the council offer me housing?

Although an individual may fulfil all the criteria for priority need and vulnerability, a local authority is only able to offer you housing if you have a local connection to the area. To have a local connection, you must:

  • Have lived in the area for six out of the last 12 months or three out of the last five years
  • Have close family that live in the area
  • Have an offer of employment in the area
  • For other substantial reasons such as fleeing violence or to receive specialist health treatment

If the above do not apply to you, you will be referred back to the local authority where you hold your local connection.

The council say that I am not a priority for housing. What can I do?

If the council finds you as non priority for housing, you are able to appeal against their decision. They will give you reasons why you are not considered as priority need for housing.

  • You should get advice immediately
  • You have 21 days to ask for a review or challenge the council’s decision
  • You have 21 days to appeal to the court if your request for a review is not successful
  • An adviser, housing solicitor or Law Centre can assist you with the review and/or appeal

You should gather as much information as possible to support your appeal. It could be a letter from prison confirming that you are institutionalised, a letter from a from a medical professional confirming your health needs or disabilities and the impact they have on your daily living, a letter from a service you are receiving support from etc.

The council has a duty to provide you with housing advice if they are not able to assist you. They will provide you with:

  • Information about services in the area that may assist you
  • Information on your housing options
  • Advice on your housing rights
  • Advice on welfare benefits, including housing benefit

Services for people who are homeless and sleeping rough

If you are homeless and sleeping rough there are a number of services that may be able to help you and offer support, information and guidance on accessing accommodation.

  • Local council

Your local council will offer housing options or housing advice during office hours. In some situations the council may have a duty to find you emergency accommodation and can make emergency referrals to hostels or night shelters. If you are under 18, the council’s social services department has a duty to help you. You can find your local council here.

  • Day centres

Day centres are safe places to go during the day. They usually offer food, showers, clothes, medical assistance, housing advice and staff can make referrals to hostels and night shelters. Sometimes accommodation providers put aside a certain number of bed spaces which only day centres can refer to. This means they may be able to offer you more accommodation options.

  • Outreach and support services

Outreach and support services can help you find a place in a hostel or night shelter. They may also know of local schemes available in your area that aren’t advertised. Outreach and support services are listed on Homeless UK.

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice offers specialist housing and legal advice and can refer you to local support agencies that provide housing-related support.

Homeless UK

Homeless UK lists services, including hostels, day centres and outreach and support services, for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.

  • It lists approximately 250 direct access hostels that you can contact yourself.
  • For many of the other hostels and night shelters you need to be referred by an agency such as a local council, a statutory health service or probation.

No Second Night Out (NSNO)

NSNO helps people who are new to sleeping on the streets and can provide a safe place to stay for one or two nights. NSNO staff then refer people on to other support and accommodation providers to find longer-term accommodation. The service is only available in some cities including Liverpool, London, Manchester and Oxford. Your local council will be able to tell you if your local area operates an NSNO scheme.

Refugee Action

Refugee Action provides advice to refugees and asylum seekers and can help those who want to return to their home country. You can call their Choices Assisted Voluntary Return service on 0808 800 0007.

Shelter

Shelter provides advice and guidance on housing and homelessness. You can call their housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturday-Sunday 8am-5pm. Shelter also has advice centres across England where you can get face-to-face advice. These are listed here.

Street Link

StreetLink is a service which connects local support services with rough sleepers. You can provide your location to StreetLink either online or by telephone on 0300 500 0914.

24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline

The 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline helps women experiencing or fleeing domestic violence, or family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf. You can call them on 0808 2000 247. Their advisers can refer you to safe emergency accommodation. If you are in immediate danger call 999.

I am at risk of being made homeless. What should I do?

If you’re about to become homeless you need to act as quickly as possible and get the support and advice you need. You may be able to get support to keep your current home or find emergency housing.

You should contact your local council’s housing department as soon as possible and provide all the relevant information, for example details of any eviction proceedings being taken against you.

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice offers specialist housing and legal advice and can refer you to local support agencies that provide housing related support.

Shelter

Shelter provides advice and guidance on housing and homelessness. You can call their housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturday-Sunday 8am-5pm. Shelter also has advice centres across England where you can get face-to-face advice. These are listed here.