4. Previous research and the context
Earlier research has found that people going into custody can already have housing problems, and that serving a sentence can create further housing problems.
Pre-existing housing problems can range from living in poor quality housing, having rent or mortgage arrears and impending court action (for example, on arrears), to having a ‘volatile’ housing history including homelessness and living in hostels.
Problems that can come about because of a sentence center on the loss of housing, leading to a need to find housing on release. Major causes of such loss include relationship breakdown, inability to pay rent or mortgage, and failure to take action (or difficulties taking action) by the individual to keep housing. Other problems caused by a sentence, including loss of possessions and increased mortgage/rent arrears, which can both be a barrier to securing and maintaining housing on release.
The resolution of housing problems for people who serve short sentences can be hindered by a range of issues and barriers, including benefits eligibility, lack of facilities to deal with housing problems in prisons, (for example, access to telephone or internet) and this group’s lack of skills. (See full report for detailed review of previous research).
Policy and practice context
The SPS has services in place to identify housing problems of people serving short sentences. This centers on a ‘core screening’ which involves collecting information from people when they enter prison and includes a section on housing. Additionally there is an voluntary induction process which can identify housing problems, it is available to all, but not taken up by all.
In Scotland all people seen as unintentionally homeless (including those liberated from prison) have the right to settled accommodation, if seen as intentionally homeless, they have the right to temporary accommodation. These homelessness services are delivered by local authorities and include the need to have a local connection, for example, having previously been resident in the area.
Everyone serving a sentence in Scotland has, in principle, access to throughcare services. These are holistic services that focus on reintegration and desistance, delivered by specialist staff during and after a prison sentence. Being holistic they include a housing element. The service is voluntary and not taken up by all. Further the level of service provided can vary and people serving a (short) sentence may not know about it.
For financial problems with setting up in housing people released from custody can apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund for help which could fund, for example, furniture or appliances.
Email: Julie Guy