Priority need of homeless ex-offenders

A person has a priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having spent time in custody. 

This content applies to England

Priority need of vulnerable ex-offenders

A person has a priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of having:[1]

  • served a custodial sentence

  • been committed for contempt of court or a similar offence

  • been remanded in custody

Assessing vulnerability of ex-offenders

The Homelessness Code of Guidance contains a chapter dedicated to guidance for local authorities on providing homelessness services to people with an offending history, and states that such individuals are likely to face 'additional barriers' in accessing housing and therefore need targeted advice and information to help them to secure housing.[2]

The Code of Guidance does not state that people who have been in custody are likely to encounter difficulties in finding and maintaining their own accommodation (which is part of one's ability to fend for oneself in the definition of vulnerability). Advisers should emphasise the problems applicants may encounter in their search for accommodation.

The Code of Guidance lists the following factors that authorities may wish to consider when deciding whether the applicant is vulnerable, although of course additional factors may be relevant:[3]

  • the length of time spent in prison or custody

  • whether the applicant is receiving probation service supervision

  • the time that has lapsed since the applicant was released from prison or custody, and whether the applicant has been able to obtain and maintain accommodation during that period

  • whether the applicant has any existing support networks, such as family or friends

The Code states that a housing needs assessment may have been conducted by the Probation Service, Prison Service, Youth Offending Team, Criminal Justice Intervention Team or a voluntary agency acting on behalf of one of these. This assessment should be made available to the authority where it identifies that the individual needs extra help in finding accommodation because they are particularly vulnerable, and s/he makes an application for housing assistance.[4]

In addition, the person may not become homeless immediately upon release, but homelessness may arise later. Vulnerability will still have to be considered.

Case law on vulnerability of ex-offenders

A local authority was entitled to find that a homeless man, who was a persistent offender and had spent many periods in custody, was not vulnerable on his last release from prison on the basis that he had not become institutionalised and hence less able to cope with homelessness than an ordinary person if made homeless.[5]

Even if the applicant is found to be in priority need, the authority is entitled to consider whether the applicant became homeless intentionally. The courts have, in a number of cases, upheld decisions of intentional homelessness where the applicant lost accommodation either directly or indirectly as a result of going into prison.[6]

The Code of Guidance acknowledges that this is a difficult issue and states that authorities must not adopt blanket policies of assuming applicants to be intentionally homeless. Each case must be considered in the light of all the facts and circumstances. [7]

Applications made before 3 April 2018

The current Homelessness Code of Guidance was introduced on 3 April 2018 and the references here are to this Code. For applications made before this date, the recommendations of the 2006 Code of Guidance should apply.

Last updated: 17 March 2021


  • [1]

    art 5 Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 SI 2002/2051; paras 8.34 and 23.18 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [2]

    chapter 23 and para 23.7 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [3]

    para 23.19 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [4]

    para 23.20 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.

  • [5]

    Johnson v Solihull MBC [2013] EWCA Civ 752.

  • [6]

    R v Hounslow, ex p R (1997) 29 HLR 939, QBD; Minchin v Sheffield City Council [2000] JHL D49, CA; Goodger v Ealing LBC [2002], CA; Stewart v Lambeth LBC [2002], CA.

  • [7]

    paras 23.21 and 23.22 Homelessness Code of Guidance, MHCLG, Feb 2018.