The Homelessness Reduction Act
This is a guest post by Nicola Marklew of the National Homelessness Advice Service.
The stats are quite telling: nearly 2 out of every 5 prisoners need help finding a place to live when leaving prison. That’s 2 in 5 who believe that they don’t have a place they can call home. Given that 3 in 5 prisoners say that having a place to live was important in stopping them from reoffending in the future*, it’s vitally important that helpful advice is given.
So where do they go?
Typically, they will be signposted to an agency providing advice about housing on leaving prison. It may be a third sector agency, or a member of staff may help them with a homeless application to the local council.
But from October 2018, this won’t be enough. For those who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, the newly enacted Homelessness Reduction Act will, from this date, place a duty on a number of public authorities, including prisons and probation services, to refer people to their local authority for housing assistance. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that “…The new law will help make sure councils, public services and the homelessness sector in every part of the country work together and intervene earlier, supporting people at risk and help those already homeless to find a home…”
To help people understand what the duty to refer is, the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) has created an easy to understand training course for those working in public authorities. People can access it from July, and it’s free. The training isn’t stand-alone neither; staff accessing NHAS can call or webchat the expert advice line, to clarify aspects of this and other housing legislation, and to check practical options available to the service user. They can also access factsheets that are intended for public use, for instance: “Prisoners – housing on release” as well as sign up to the monthly email newsletter to receive the latest information on housing policy and homelessness law. Again, these are all free.
For 27 years the NHAS has been providing these services to staff working in local authorities and those in the advice sector, such as local citizens advice. It’s a service provided by Shelter, the housing charity, and funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – so the advice being given is independent, and backed up by the Shelter Legal team.
*Kim Williams, Jennifer Poyser, and Kathryn Hopkins, Accommodation, homelessness and reoffending of prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) survey, Ministry of Justice, 2012