Friday, 12 September 2014 00:00

Homeless on release

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Whether you came to prison from a permanent address or temporary accommodation, you could be at risk of being homeless upon release. If you are unable to find yourself a suitable accommodation before your sentence comes to an end, you may be able to present as homeless to the Housing Executive.

Depending on your circumstances, the Housing Executive may have a duty to provide you with accommodation. This can be a lengthy process but the Housing Executive can start looking into your circumstances from 3 months before your release date.  However, you won't actually meet the standards for homelessness until 28 days before you are released.  Talk to the Housing Advice Development Worker at your prison once you know your release date and find out when you should start the process.

Release date not known

You can present as homeless to the Housing Executive either on the outside after your release from prison, or from inside the prison while you are still in custody.
Presenting as homeless after release

You won't always know your release date.  You could be released directly from court as either acquitted or time served.

If you are released without having sorted out accommodation, you will need to present as homeless in one of the Housing Executive district offices or at the Homeless Support Unit on Great Victoria Street in Belfast. You will need to complete the Housing and transfer application form, a copy of which you can either pick up in one of the district offices or download from the Housing Executive website . You can get an adviser to help you complete your homelessness application form.

After you submit the form, the Housing Executive will assess your circumstances using legal tests, also known as the four hurdles. You may be able to get temporary accommodation while your homelessness application is being examined.

The Housing Executive must send you a decision letter within 33 days. If the decision is negative, the letter must include reasons why the Housing Executive has decided you are not a Full Duty Applicant and not eligible for assistance as a homeless person.

You can challenge the decision if the Housing Executive has decided you are not homeless, but you should get advice on how to do this properly as it can be a complicated legal process.

Presenting as homeless from prison

You can be legally homeless while still in prison if you're going to be released in the next 28 days and you've got nowhere to go once you get out of prison. The Housing Executive accepts applications from people who are likely to become homeless within the next 28 days. A housing adviser in your prison may be able to write a homeless report to support your application with the Housing Executive. If you are subject to license or probation on release the report has to be written by your probation officer.

If you are not sure when you will be released from prison, you ask your resettlement officer to make an appointment for you with the prison housing adviser.

Release date known

You can present as homeless at any stage in the three months running up to your release date, although it's best not to leave it too late. Make an appointment with the Housing Advice Development Worker in your prison to start this process.
Getting assessed

If you are presenting as homeless from prison, you will need to ask the Offender Management Unit to make a referral to begin your homeless application approximately 3 months prior to your release.

The Housing Executive should assess you no later than 28 days prior to your release.  To assess you the Housing Executive will need a completed Housing and Transfer Application Form and a homeless report from the Offender Management Unit or the Housing Advice Development Worker in the prison. The Housing Executive won't accept your application without this report.

After your application form has been submitted, the Housing Executive will assess your circumstances using legal tests, also known as the “4 hurdles”. If you pass all four homelessness tests, you will be entitled to help from the Housing Executive and it will have a duty to provide you with suitable housing.

Usually, the Housing Executive must make a decision on a homelessness application within 33 days of receiving all the relevant information.  However,  prisoners will not pass the homelessness test until 28 days before their release date so there may be a silght delay if you start the process before this trigger.   If the Housing Executive decides you are not entitled to assistance as a homeless person the letter must include detailed reasons.

If the Housing Executive decides that you are not homeless, you have a legal right to have this decision reviewed and, if the review upholds the original decision, you may be able to appeal to the County Court on a point of law.

Homelessness tests and prisoners

The Housing Executive should investigate the circumstances of anyone who asks for help because they're homeless or likely to become homeless.  The Housing Executive will check to see if this person passes the 4 homelessness tests.

You can read more detailed information about the four tests in the homelessness section of this site, but there are some specific issues that prisoners and ex-prisoners might be affected by.
Homelessness test

If you're homeless when in prison, you can ask the Housing Executive to assess you at any point in the 3 months up to your release.  However, you can't pass the homelessness test until there are 28 days or fewer until your release date. 
Eligibility test

The Housing Executive may decide you fail the eligibility test if you've been involved in anti-social behavior in the last 2 years.  This could happen if you've been convicted of certain offenses.  The Housing Executive should look at each case individually and should only decide you've failed the test if it can show that you've been involved in the type of behavior that would make you an undesirable tenant. The Housing Executive should look at what your offense is, where it was committed and where you were living when the offence was committed. 
Priority need test

If you've spent 4 years or longer in prison, you should automatically pass the Priority Need test when you're released.  If you've spent less than 4 years in prison, you'll have to show that you have other reasons to pass this test.  You may pass the test if you have a serious illness, a disability, mental health problems or if you're vulnerable in some way.
Intentionality test

The Housing Executive doesn't have to help people who have made themselves homeless and could have prevented this happening.  You shouldn't be found intentionally homeless just because you've been in prison, but you could fail this test if you were evicted because of anti-social behavior or because you broke your tenancy agreement in some way. 
Failing the tests

Speak to the prison housing adviser if you've failed any of these tests.  The adviser may be able to help you challenge this decision.
Areas of choice for prisoners

When you apply for housing, you'll usually choose 2 areas that you'd be happy to be rehoused in.  Prisoners who are subject to PPANI may have some restrictions placed on the areas they can choose.  You might also need to choose your areas more carefully if you are under threat or there's a possible risk to your safety if you live in a specific area
Temporary housing for prisoners

Prisoners who have a history of certain types of offenses, like arson or sexual assaults, may find it difficult to secure temporary accommodation while they're waiting for a permanent offer.  Speak to your probation officer or the prison housing adviser if your offence history means you may not be able to use traditional temporary accommodation.





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