What happens to your home if you go into prison?
Going into custody doesn’t have to mean losing your home. Whether you own your home, rent privately, or are a tenant with the Housing Executive or a housing association, there may be ways of keeping your home while you’re in prison.
This will, however, depend on your individual circumstances and your ability to pay your housing costs while in prison. Keeping your home may not always be the best option, especially if this means you will end up in debt after your release.
If you were homeless before you went into prison or you can’t go back to your former home, you will need to arrange alternative housing for when you leave prison. The worst case scenario could involve you having nowhere to go upon release.
Whatever your circumstances, it is very important that you get advice about your housing situation. Housing Rights Service has advice staff. You can talk to these people if you're worried about your housing options or you can ask a friend or family.
Caring for personal items when in prison
Securing your home and holding on to your belongings while you are in prison can be difficult, especially if noone is going to be living in your home or you lose it while in custody. If noone else is going to be living in your home while you are away, you need to think about ways to keep it and your stuff safe.
Belongings in social tenancies
If your home is owned by the Housing Executive or a housing association, there are a few options available. You can ask your landlord to:
- board up your home (you might have to contribute towards the costs of this)
- allow a nominated person to live in your home.
Keep in mind that a nominated person will need to pay the rent in your place, as well as look after the property and that this person might not be entitled to housing benefit to help with paying rent.
If your landlord does not agree to a nominated person looking after your tenancy, you can still ask a trusted friend or a relative to keep an eye on your home from time to time, but if they move in, it will affect your housing benefit entitlement.
If you are not returning to your Housing Executive or housing association house, your landlord might store your belongings, but doesn’t have to do this. If your landlord agrees to store your stuff, it’ll only be for a short time so you’ll need to organize somewhere else for them to go fairly quickly. Your landlord may charge you for this service.
Belongings in private tenancies
If you are able to keep your tenancy, try to have someone visit the property from time to time to make sure your belongings are safe. You should also ask this person to check your post in case you receive any notices or instructions from your landlord. If you're going to ask someone to do this for you, remember to inform the landlord, as he/she will want to know if someone other than the tenant is visiting the property.
If you give up your tenancy when you go into prison, you will need to arrange storage of your belongings elsewhere. Commercial storage companies are usually expensive, so you might want to think about leaving your belongings with a family member or a friend while you are absent.
Belongings of owner-occupiers
Make sure your home is secure if you haven't arranged for someone else to live it in while you are in prison. You should check that the locks are of a good standard and think about installing a burglar alarm. Have someone you trust check the property regularly and check your insurance documents in case you need to notify your insurer that there's none currently living in the property.
If your home is repossessed while you’re in prison, you need to contact your lender to find out what they plan to do with your belongings. In these circumstances, try to get friends and family on the outside to look after and store your belongings.
Claiming benefits from prison
if you’re receiving benefits you need to tell whoever manages your claim that you’re going into prison. Most of your benefits will stop while you're in prison, but you might still be entitled to get housing benefit, depending on how long you'll be in prison for.
Stopping your benefits
Contact the Social Security Agency by telephone or in writing to inform them that you have been imprisoned. Ask your family, friends or prison staff to do this on your behalf if you can't make the call. Your entitlement to most benefits will stop on the day you go to prison.
You'll have to pay back any benefits you got while in prison if you didn't tell the correct organizations that your circumstances have changed. The fact that you didn’t know you were supposed to tell someone won’t protect you from having to pay the money back.
If you were claiming benefits as a part of a couple, one of you has to inform the Social Security Agency of the change in circumstances and your partner will need to make a new claim.
Claiming housing benefit from prison
If you have not claimed housing benefit before going to prison, you will need to fill in a housing benefit form. If you're already receiving housing benefit, you will need to write to the Housing Executive to explain that your circumstances have changed and you are now in prison.
Your Sentence Manager, Probation Officer, or the prison's Housing Advice Development Worker will be able to assist you with your housing benefit claim.
Limits on length of housing benefit claim
Remand prisoners can claim housing benefit for up to 52 weeks and sentenced prisoners are allowed to claim if they know they will be released within 13 weeks of going into prison.
Sentenced prisoners who will be staying in prison for more than 13 weeks are not entitled to housing benefit while serving their sentence. However, if you have been sentenced and, while serving your sentence, you are remanded in custody for another offence or offences you may be entitled to housing benefit for 52 weeks. This is often referred to as being Return to Untried or RTU.
Speak to a housing adviser in prison or an advice agency to find out your entitlement. It is very important to have your benefit situation assessed as soon as possible after you go into prison.