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Housing advice for prisoners

The Housing market in London and the South of England is under severe pressure. Finding housing in Hackney is extremely challenging at the moment. This means if you’re remanded into custody, it’s essential you do everything possible to keep your home.

What can I do to help pay my rent or mortgage while in prison?

Housing benefit

If you’re already receiving housing benefit to pay your rent, you might be able to carry on receiving some of it while you’re in prison – but for how long depends on your circumstances.

On remand in custody awaiting trial or sentence

If you intend to return home when released from prison, you can receive housing benefit for up to 52 weeks while in custody awaiting trial or sentence. You must tell the housing benefit service as soon as you’re sentenced or released.

On bail

You can get housing benefit if you are released on bail at your normal address. If your bail conditions mean you have to live away from home, you can get up to 52 weeks’ housing benefit, as long as you’re still on bail and you intend to return to your normal home.

Once you’ve been sentenced

If, when you’re sentenced, you’ve been away from home for more than 13 weeks (including any time when you were on remand), your housing benefit will stop the next Monday. It’s essential you tell us as soon as you’re sentenced.

Universal Credit

If you are receiving Universal Credit to cover your rent this will continue for up to 6 months while you are on remand or bail.

But once you have been sentenced if you’ve been away from home for more than 6 months, then your Universal Credit will stop immediately.

You must have claimed Universal Credit before you went into prison.

Support with your mortgage

If you own your home – and were getting a support for mortgage interest (SMI) loan before you went into prison, you will continue to receive it for up to a year while you’re on remand or bail.

Once you’ve been sentenced the SMI loan will end.

If you are no longer entitled to an SMI loan because you’re serving a prison sentence, your partner may be able to claim instead if they were living with you, even if their name isn’t on the mortgage.

My entitlement to all state support has ended, what can I do?

Talk to your landlord / mortgage company

If you are in prison, it is often a good idea to tell your landlord or mortgage company, and keep them informed with what is happening.

If your rent is not being paid, then keeping them in the dark about your circumstance is likely to lead to eviction.

Some landlords (especially social landlords) may be prepared to allow your tenancy to continue, especially if the sentence is likely to be short – or will work with you to look at options during your absence.

However if they do not know you are in prison they may think you have moved out or abandoned the property.

Banks and lending companies also have a duty of care to their customers. It’s better to inform them of the situation.

If your sentence is potentially short, some lenders may be able to defer or reduce payments until you are released.

Can someone else pay your rent?

If you have a partner who lives with you, they can claim Universal Credit to pay the rent, even if the tenancy agreement is in your name.

Alternatively, if you’re single but another relative or friend normally lives with you on a non-commercial basis they may be able to claim Universal Credit while you are in prison.

This is because another person (usually a member of your family) can be treated as liable for rent, if it’s reasonable to do so.

Could you sublet to cover the rent?

If you’re considering subletting all or part of your home to cover the rent while you’re in prison, you’ll need your landlord’s permission. You must not sublet your home without it.

If you’re a social tenant, it can be a criminal offence to sublet your property without permission.

However, most social landlords are reasonable and will give permission for subletting if it prevents your homelessness.

I am a pensioner – how will I be affected?

If you are a pensioner, your state retirement pension will be suspended as soon as you go into custody. This means you won’t receive any payments from your state pension while you’re in prison.

If you are on remand but not convicted – you will receive a lump sum back payment once released.

However, if you are sentenced and convicted, you will lose your entitlement to your state pension during during your sentence.

You should be able to claim state pension and pension credit just before leaving prison, however your payments will not start until the Pension Service has received a notice of discharge form.

If you are over pension credit age you are not eligible for Universal Credit.

Pensioners will still need to claim housing benefit when you’re released from prison. Housing benefit can be paid for up to 52 weeks while on remand, but will stop as soon as you are sentenced, if the total absence is over 13 weeks.

I am about to leave prison and need housing

Given the demand for housing in London it’s very difficult to find affordable housing on release from prison. If you don’t have anywhere to live when you leave prison, you should start looking at least 6 months before your release date.

You should make an appointment with your prison’s resettlement or housing department at the first opportunity.

If you’re serving 12 months or less, ‘through the gate’ services can help you settle back to life in the community. This can include support to find housing.

Other advice services

  • Nacro’s resettlement advice service can advise you on your housing options when leaving prison: Nacro / 0800 0181 259
  • as your local council, we have a duty to work with you to help you find housing and will arrange an interview to discuss your housing needs and draw up a housing plan – please be aware this does not mean the Council will offer you housing
  • your prison has a duty to refer you to us if you will be homeless within 56 days, but you should make sure they have done so

I don’t have any housing arranged

If you still do not have housing arranged upon release then you may want to consider the following options:

Stay with family and friends

If you have family or friends with a spare room this can be a good option whilst you look for somewhere to stay in the long term..

Hostels and night shelters

There are a number of organisations that run hostels or night shelters. Places are limited so you might need to go on a waiting list. Some hostels require direct referrals from organisations like housing needs services, or are limited to certain groups of individuals.

Private renting

Private renting can be expensive – however for many people it will be the only option. You may be able to claim Universal Credit to help with some of the cost. To find accommodation you can afford you might need to look in other areas, and you may have to consider a room in a shared property.

We may be able to help you identify which areas of the country you can afford, as well as provide support with rent and deposit in some cases.

If you’re single it’s likely you’ll have to rent a room in a shared property.

If you’re under pension age you’ll need to claim Universal Credit to cover the housing costs. However, if you’re a pensioner you will need to claim housing benefit.

LHA rates

If you’re a private tenant, the maximum amount of rent that will be taken into account in your benefit claim is called local housing allowance.

The local lousing allowance rate will vary depending on:

  • the area where you decide to live
  • the number of bedrooms you need

Find out the local housing allowance level for your area

Benefit calculators

Benefit calculators can give you an estimation of what you would be entitled to in Universal Credit or housing benefit to meet your housing costs if you were looking to rent privately:

Housing advice

When you’re released we can provide advice and support to you to help you find alternative accommodation.

If you’re single and need housing advice and support, you should visit our single homeless services based at the Greenhouse at 19 Tudor Road, London, E9 7SN, London.

You’ll be offered a full housing assessment, which will look at your full circumstances, and draw up a full personal housing plan with you, looking into what you’ll need to do to resolve your housing situation, and how the Council can best support you.

However, we do not have a duty to provide you with accommodation except in specific circumstances.

Apply as homeless

If you are single and apply to the Council for help because you are homeless, you won’t be eligible for temporary accommodation unless you:
are legally homeless

  • meet immigration and residence conditions
  • are in priority need
  • are homeless through no fault of your own
  • have a local connection to Hackney

Does the fact I’ve been in prison mean I’m in priority need?

No, the fact that you have been in prison does not mean you are in priority need.

You will need to establish how your stay in prison, and any other factors (for example mental illness, physical disability, or being in care), make it more likely for you to find it difficult to seek out and maintain accommodation than other single homeless individuals.

To be in priority need you must be more likely to come to harm if you do not have accommodation than an ordinary person.

When considering whether you have priority need we will look at various factors, like:

  • the length of time you spent in prison
  • any third-party support you receive from the probation service, a youth offending team, or a drug and alcohol team
  • evidence provided by any third party (including any housing needs assessment) about your homelessness vulnerability
  • the length of time since your release from prison and how successful you have been in finding and keeping your own accommodation
  • any support networks such as family, friends or a probation officer
  • evidence of any other vulnerability such as mental health problems, drug or alcohol misuse, or a history of being in care
  • any other factors that might have an impact on your ability to find accommodation yourself

They’ll also look at things, like whether you:

  • have a mental illness
  • have a learning or physical disability
  • are under 21 and have been in care
  • have been in the armed forces
  • are fleeing violence or threats of violence

The fact that you have been in prison does not mean that the Council has to treat you as being vulnerable and in priority need for accommodation and in most cases the Council will not be obliged to do so.

As well as being in priority need you will need to have a local connection to Hackney, and have not made yourself intentionally homeless.

Intentionally homeless

We cannot house individuals in temporary accommodation where they made themselves intentionally homeless.

We don’t automatically consider people who have been made homeless due to being in prison as intentionally homeless.

But it‘s likely that you will be considered intentionally homeless if you could reasonably have foreseen, that committing the offence and being sent to prison, would have caused you to lose your home.

You may have made yourself intentionally homeless if:

  • you were evicted from previous accommodation because of criminal or antisocial behaviour
  • you lost your home due to rent arrears after going to prison

If you were intentionally homeless Hackney Council can only offer you limited help with finding housing.

However your case will be considered on its own merits, in light of all the facts and circumstances. There may be mitigating circumstances that mean the Council still has a duty to house you.

You should therefore tell us as much information as possible when we are making our decision.

Other information

If we believe that you are likely to be owed a housing duty, we will house you in interim accommodation while we make a final decision. It‘is likely to be a hostel with basic facilities, or outside of the borough.

Hackney is an expensive area, with the highest growth in property prices and rents in the country over the last 20 years, so a lot of our temporary accommodation is outside Hackney.

You could be placed in accommodation anywhere in London or further afield, as long as the accommodation is suitable.

Ending your homeless duty with a private rented tenancy

The Council may use the private rented sector to end your homeless duty. Under the 2011 localism act, suitable private rented sector offers can be used to end the homeless duty – without your agreement.

If we consider that a private rented property is appropriate for your needs, and suitable accommodation can be found, then a private sector offer may be made to you. There’s no guarantee the homelessness will lead to social housing.

Applying for council or social housing

The Council operates a social housing register. However the pressures and demands on social housing are increasing across Hackney and demand far exceeds supply.

There are over 13,000 households on our housing register, and last year only 640 social rented lets became available. Even people in the most severe need will have a very long wait.

Social renting is unlikely to be a solution to your housing situation in the short to medium term, and the likelihood of obtaining a social let is slim. Many households will never obtain a social let in Hackney.

To get on to the social housing register you need to have at least 3 years’ local connection to Hackney.

Further advice and support

The following organisations may be able to provide advice and information with your housing options on leaving prison:

Page updated on: 8 November 2019