Homeless when released from prison

Many prisoners find themselves homeless following their time in prison – and single people are particularly at risk. There may be services that could provide practical support and help you find accommodation. You could also apply to your local council for help as a homeless person.

Help from the council if you are single and homeless

If you are single and apply to a local council for help because you are homeless, they will limit the help they offer you unless they think that you fall into a priority group.

The council should take into account if you have spent time in prison when deciding how to treat you, even if it has been some time since you were released. They should also consider if you have a mental illness, learning disability or physical disability, you have been in care (and are under 21), the armed forces or you are fleeing violence or threats of violence. Even then, they may decide not to help if they consider you are intentionally homeless.

Are you in ‘priority need’ because you’ve been in prison?

In some circumstances, a local council may treat you as being in ‘priority need' because you have spent time in prison or on remand. The council will look at if you should be considered ‘vulnerable’. This has a particular meaning for homelessness applications and is not the same as being labelled ‘vulnerable’ in prison.

When assessing your homelessness application, the council should take into account:

  • the length of time you spent in prison 
  • if any support is being provided to you by the probation service, a youth offending team, or drug and alcohol team, as well as any evidence (including a housing needs assessment) provided by them about your homelessness vulnerability
  • how long it has been since your release and how you successfully you have managed to find or keep accommodation during that time
  • any support networks such as family and friends or a probation officer
  • evidence of any other vulnerability such as mental health problems, drug or alcohol misuse, or a history of having been in care.

The fact that you have been in prison will not in itself mean that the local council has to treat you as being vulnerable and in priority need – you will have to show how this and any other factors make you more likely to find it difficult to seek out and maintain accommodation compared with other homeless people.

Read Shelter's factsheet Do I have a priority need for more information on priority need.

Prisoners and ex-offenders treated as intentionally homeless

If you were evicted from your previous home because of criminal or antisocial behaviour, or because of rent arrears resulting from your time in prison, then the council’s homelessness department may decide that you are intentionally homeless.

If the council decides you are intentionally homeless, it will only offer you limited help with finding housing. If you are in priority need, you may be offered temporary accommodation for a short period only. 

The council may take the view that you could be expected to know that your criminal activity could result in you being sent to prison, and that this could lead to the loss of your home. The council will be less likely to think this if the loss of your home didn’t directly follow on from you being sent to prison - for example, if you made an arrangement for another person to pay the rent while you were away, but that arrangement broke down.

A council could 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 to seek advice from a housing adviser, particularly in cases where it could be argued 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, for example because of:

  • having limited mental capacity
  • mental illness
  • frailty
  • an assessed substance abuse problem.

What area can you be housed in if you are homeless?

When you apply to a local council as homeless, the council will look to see if you have a local connection with their area.

You can establish a local connection, for example, by living, working, or having immediate family (usually a parent or brother or sister) in the area.

Time spent in prison in an area does not give you a local connection with the area the prison is in. However, if you have no local connection with any area or if you are fleeing domestic violence, you can apply to the council in any area. The council you apply to has to help you.

There may be restrictions placed on where you can live – for example, if an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) says 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.

Read Shelter's factsheet Do I have a local connection for more information on local connection.

Emergency accommodation if you have no housing

You may need to use emergency accommodation such as a hostel, night shelter or bed and breakfast accommodation if you have nowhere to go following your release. Hostels provide temporary shelter – some are direct access, which means you don’t need a referral from an agency to use them.

Some areas have day centres that provide cheap hot meals, showers, 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 in the private rented sector

You could try to get housing in the private rented sector – your local housing options department may be able to advise you how to find out what housing is available locally and how to apply for help with paying the rent. You might be able to get help with a deposit through:

As a longer term alternative option, you could also consider registering on your council’s waiting list for housing.

Help finding housing from probation services

Offenders serving sentences of 12 months or more are released on licence and live in the community supervised by the probation service until the end of their sentence.

If you are released on licence, your probation officer can help you find accommodation - provided you have spent a continuous period of at least twelve 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 out.

If a prison housing adviser has found you accommodation for your first night, you may be given a higher discharge grant (about an extra £50), which will be paid directly to the accommodation provider.

You may also be able to get help from the council's local welfare assistance scheme. A prison adviser or other adviser may be able to help you with your application. You could apply for help with paying for:

  • essential belongings lost when you were away
  • clothes
  • a fridge for your new home
  • help with the costs of moving into accommodation

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 – ask at the prison for details. (Credit unions are financial institutions owned by their members and run for the benefit of their members.)

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 (HDC), but don’t have suitable accommodation to go to, you may be able to get help with supported accommodation through the bail accommodation and support scheme (BASS).

Accommodation is provided for up to four people in shared houses in residential areas, with support from a visiting support officer. (Accommodation can be provided for families too.)

You will have to pay rent for BASS accommodation, but may be able to get housing benefit to help with the cost. 

Sources of advice for prisoners and ex-offenders

Find out about sources of advice for prisoners and ex-offenders from Shelter and other organisations.

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