If you apply to us for housing assistance because you are homeless, we may not necessarily be legally obliged to provide you with any accommodation.
However, we have a duty to assess the circumstances of your homelessness, identify your housing and support needs and work with you to prevent your homelessness or support you to find somewhere to live.
We will provide you with a Personal Housing Plan which will explain where we can assist and what you can do to help yourself. This might include actions such as attending appointments with Job Centre Plus or engaging with organisations which can assist ex-offenders.
To be legally obliged to provide you with accommodation, we would need to be satisfied that you are eligible, homeless, in priority need and that you have not made yourself intentionally homeless.
When considering whether we have a duty to offer you accommodation we will take into account the length of time you served even if it has been some time since you were released. We will also look at whether you have/are:
- a mental illness
- a learning disability or physical disability
- ever been in care
- been in the Armed Forces
- fleeing violence or threats of violence
- vulnerable for any other reason.
Priority need for prisoners and ex-offenders
In some circumstances, we might decide that you are in priority need because you have spent time in prison or on remand. We will consider whether you should be regarded as being vulnerable as you are homeless. This has a particular meaning for homelessness applications and is not the same as being labelled vulnerable in prison. When considering your homelessness application, we will look at:
- length of time you spent in prison
- whether any third party support is being provided to you either by the Probation Service, youth offending team or drug and alcohol team
- evidence provided by any third party (including any housing needs assessment) about your homelessness vulnerability
- period of time since your release from prison and how successful you have been in finding your own accommodation and in keeping that accommodation
- any third party support networks such as family, friends or Probation Officer
- evidence of any other vulnerability such as mental health problems, drug or alcohol misuse or a history of having been in care
- any other factors that might have an impact on your ability to find accommodation yourself.
The fact that you have been in prison does not in itself mean that we have to treat you as being vulnerable and in priority need for accommodation. We will assess the evidence before it and be satisfied that you will find it difficult to seek and maintain accommodation for yourself compared to other people who are rendered homeless.
Prisoners and ex-offenders who have a home and want to keep it
Please refer to the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) if you are an existing owner occupier or tenant and you want to keep your accommodation whilst in prison.
Prisoners and ex-offenders treated as intentionally homeless
We may decide that you are intentionally homeless if you were evicted from where you lived before going to prison because of criminal or antisocial behaviour or rent arrears resulting from your time in prison.
If we decide you are intentionally homeless, we can only offer you limited help with finding accommodation. If you are in priority need, you may be offered temporary accommodation for a short period of time to assist you to find your own accommodation in the private sector.
We may take the view that you should have known that your criminal activity could have resulted in you being sent to prison, and that this could lead to the loss of your home. We may also decide that you are intentionally homeless if you gave up your tenancy because your entitlement to housing benefit ended during a period in prison.
It is very important that you tell us about your background as there are circumstances where you may have lost your accommodation but would not be found intentionally homeless. For example, if you were sent to prison for a crime that was not premeditated, or was not deliberate because you were not able to understand the consequences of your own actions. This could be the case because of:
- limited mental capacity
- a mental illness
- an assessed substance abuse problem.
Please see the National Homelessness Advice Service (NHAS) for further information.
Areas you can be housed if homeless
When you apply to us for assistance, we will check your local connection with Woking.
You can establish a local connection, for example, by living, working or having immediate family (usually a parent or brother/sister) in the area. Time spent in prison in a specific area does not give you a local connection.
However, if you have no local connection with any area or if you are fleeing domestic violence, you can apply to any council in any area. The council you apply to must help you.
If you do not have a local connection with Woking, we will still try to prevent you from becoming homeless. However, if you are actually homeless we will refer your case to a council where you do have a local connection.
As an ex-offender there may be restrictions placed on where you can live. For example, if an anti-social behaviour order states you can’t go to a particular area, you may need to seek help from a different council.
High risk prisoners managed by a Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement (MAPPA) may be required to live in certain areas. If this applies to you, any housing that you or we assist with will need to be approved by the Police.
You may need to use emergency accommodation such as a hostel, night shelter or B&B if you have nowhere to go following release. Hostels provide temporary accommodation. Some are direct access, which means you do not need a referral from an agency to use them.
In Woking there is a day centre called The Prop, which provides cheap hot meals, shower/laundry facilities and other practical help for people who need somewhere to go during the day. They may also be able to help you find housing.
Help finding housing from Probation Services
If you are released on licence, your probation officer can help you find accommodation, as long as you have spent a continuous period of at least 12 months in custody.
Help with money before you are released from prison
All prisoners are given a discharge grant paid for by the prison when they leave. This is money to help with your costs until your benefits are sorted. If a prison housing adviser has found you accommodation for your first night, you may be given a higher discharge grant which is paid directly to the accommodation provider.
You may be able to prepare for your release when you are in prison by saving some of your prison wages. You could consider opening a credit union account when you are in prison.
Homelessness help when on bail or Home Detention Curfew
If you are a low risk adult prisoner and eligible for release on bail or home detention curfew, but don’t have suitable accommodation, you may be able to get help with supported housing through the Bail Accommodation and Support Service.
Accommodation is provided for up to four people in shared houses in residential areas, with support from a visiting support officer.