ANNEXE 5: HOUSING ISSUES AFFECTING SPECIFIC GROUPS
1. Chapter 2 of the main report described the housing issues faced, at various stages, by people who served short sentences. A common view was noted that, at all stages, the specific nature of housing issues people faced and / or the nature of services they required could vary for particular groups (within those who served short sentences).
2. A risk was of people being released to accommodation considered inappropriate to their needs was identified (pgh 2.27). A view was reported that one gap in support was that issues affecting particular groups were not always recognised or addressed by service providers (pgh 4.37).
3. The literature review (pghs A2:11-17) presented some research evidence relating to specific housing issues affecting people in particular groups who serve short sentences. Where available, this tended to focus particularly on women, although issues were also identified relating to: age; physical and mental health and disability; and particular types of offences.
4. The current research explored the views of specialist organisations and staff working with people from particular groups who served short sentences (identified in this Annexe as “specialist” staff). It also included discussions with a cross-section of individuals who served short sentences, with specific groups held with women, people with mental health problems, young people and people in different types of geographical area. These discussions provided much of the information summarised below (although participants of all types offered views on these issues).
5. While it was recognised that the issues set out in this Annexe could affect all people who served short sentences, they were seen to have a particular additional impact on those in the groups identified.
6. One of the most common themes, noted by many staff of all types and by people (particularly women) who had served short sentences, was that there could be variation in the housing issues people faced, and the availability of support, by gender. A number of these issues were seen to relate particularly to women.
Trauma, abuse and exploitation
7. A common issue, raised by several prison, housing, reintegration and social work staff was that many women who serve short sentences have experienced trauma, domestic and / or sexual abuse and mental health problems. It was noted that some women in these circumstances may view prison as a place of safety.
8. Several prison and reintegration staff stated that some housing situations could increase women’s vulnerability to further abuse and exploitation. It was suggested, for example, that the “easiest” housing solution may be for women released from prison to return to their previous accommodation. For those who had experienced domestic abuse, this could mean a return to the perpetrator, and examples were given in Chapter 2 where women returned to violent partners because they felt they had no other option. Risks were also identified where a perpetrator of abuse returned to live with their partner / victim.
9. A further issue raised was that women in hostel accommodation could be vulnerable to entering abusive relationships in order to escape the hostel environment. A few reintegration staff stressed that sleeping rough, and sleeping on sofas and floors was particularly unsafe for women.
10. One social work participant stated that women who had experienced trauma, abuse and mental health problems needed a supportive or therapeutic environment, not “a poly bag in a housing office”. Some specific issues identified as affecting people with mental health problems are discussed later in this section.
Childcare and family responsibilities
11. A further issue, described by prison and reintegration staff, was that women often have a greater role than men in considering and organising childcare and other family responsibilities. It was argued that this led to more complex considerations when identifying their housing and support requirements on imprisonment.
12. For many women, there may be a specific need to make arrangements for dependents. A few prison staff stated that men in prison may be more likely to have a partner or other relative (e.g. mother or grandmother) in the community who would make arrangements for them.
13. It was also noted that, for some women, their children may be looked after by the social work service during the woman’s time in prison.
14. Some individual women and reintegration staff noted that many women in prison intended to try to regain custody of their children when they were released. It was suggested that the nature of the housing they were released to could have a major impact on this. For example, one third sector organisation noted that women released to hostel accommodation would be unable have their children to stay.
15. Some participants stressed the importance of women with children being provided with accommodation that would enable the children to live with them. If it was not possible for children to live with them immediately on release, it was considered important for the women to be housed in accommodation where their children could visit. This issue was noted in Chapter 2 (pghs A2:53-54) more generally, as affecting people who served short sentences.
Issues for partners of those imprisoned
16. Prison and reintegration staff stated that there could be different knock-on effects for men and women whose partners were imprisoned.
17. It was suggested, for example, that women were more likely to be reliant on a partner’s benefits and tenancy. It was also noted that women may be more at risk of losing their income and their home on their partner’s imprisonment.
18. One third sector organisation indicated that it could be difficult for women whose partners were in prison to exercise “door control”. This was seen to make them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by their imprisoned partner’s friends.
Availability of support
19. A few participants suggested that there was a general lack of support to address specific issues faced by women, although there were mixed views of this.
20. A few prison staff stated that the overall SPS approach had, in the past, been to take policy and practice aimed at men and “tag women on”. This, in their view, did not take account of differences in support requirements.
21. One group of women participants expressed the view that actions were taken more quickly to address issues for men in prison.
22. Conversely, a few housing and prison staff suggested that there was more support available for women than men, or that women were more likely to engage with the support available.
23. Many respondents stated that there could be variations in the housing issues people faced, and the services available, by age. Issues were identified that may affect both young people and older people, albeit in different ways.
24. For older people, some issues related to their offending history. Many prison staff expressed the view that prison became a “way of life” for some older people, particularly where they faced recurring debts and homelessness problems.
25. Several participants suggested that some older people who had served a number of short sentences had lengthy experience of homelessness (often having been homeless on a number of occasions). One third sector organisation stated that some of their older male service users had 20-30 years’ experience of homelessness. This was seen to limit their housing opportunities.
Experience of independent living
26. Chapter 2 noted that people who served short sentences could face difficulties sustaining their accommodation. Several prison and third sector staff noted that both older and younger people could have a particular lack of independent living skills. These issues were seen to impact on the ability of both age groups to sustain independent accommodation.
27. It was noted that some older men who had served many short sentences over their lives may never have had the chance to develop such skills, and may also be unwilling to attend courses to acquire them.
28. Some prison staff suggested that, for different reasons, young people may also not know how to cope with independent living, as their upbringing may not have prepared them for this. A few stated that young people may have lived most of their lives in residential accommodation (e.g. as looked after children, then in a young offenders institution, then an adult prison). One third sector specialist staff member, and a few young people themselves, stated that young people often had no idea how to cook, clean, budget or shop.
29. Linked to this, some prison and social work staff suggested that young people may not be aware of “acceptable” behaviour in housing in the community. It was argued that they may, for example, become involved in anti-social behaviour, and it was suggested that there may be merit, in some cases, in involving mediation services.
Identification and disclosure of housing issues
30. Some prison and third sector specialist staff suggested that both older and younger people may be less likely to disclose housing issues than other groups. One participant suggested that older men could be embarrassed by their housing situation.
31. Prison staff described some cases where young people had been admitted to custody with an initial “story” about where they would stay on release, and stuck to it throughout, even where this appeared to staff to have been based on an unrealistic view of their position.
32. A few prison and third sector specialist staff suggested that young people were less likely to consider housing issues, and that there was sometimes a presumption that they would live with their parents on release. Several young people who participated in discussions stated that they had not, and did not intend to think about these issues when they were in prison.
33. Some prison staff stated that young people often had poor relationships with their parents, and that these relationships may break down during the young person’s period in prison. This finding was borne out by the views of some young people (with examples reported in Chapter 2). One third sector specialist stated that young people who went back to their parents may be a “hidden” group who could be living in poor or unsuitable conditions.
Exploitation and risk
34. Some prison and third sector specialist staff suggested that young people could be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in some housing circumstances (particularly hostels). It was stated that they may be vulnerable to peer pressure (e.g. to take drugs or commit offences) and to potential exploitation. Several young people expressed very negative views of hostels, including fear of these surroundings.
Health and social care issues
35. As noted above, a few prison and third sector specialist staff suggested that young people in hostel accommodation may be particularly vulnerable to a risk of alcohol and drug misuse, and may be less able to resist peer pressure than others.
36. A few prison staff stated that some older people may have additional health and social care needs which would affect the type of accommodation that would be suitable to them.
Accessibility and availability of support
37. Several prison, housing and third sector specialist staff suggested a general lack of recognition of the specific issues facing older and / or younger people who served short sentences.
38. A few prison and housing staff suggested a particular gap in services (particularly reintegration services) to older men (over 25). The SPS, however, believed that any such gap would be addressed by the provision of TSOs throughout Scotland.
39. A few housing staff reported general difficulties for them in working with young people with “chaotic” lifestyles.
Physical and mental health and disability
40. A further issue, noted frequently by staff of all types and some individuals who served short sentences, was that people who had mental health problems, physical impairments or learning difficulties may face specific housing issues relating to these issues. Most of the comments focused on issues for people with mental health problems. A few comments were also made about issues for people with physical impairments or learning difficulties.
Impact on health and mental health
41. Chapters 2 and 4 in the main report described participants’ views of the potential impact of housing problems (and housing services) on health. For people with physical impairments and mental health or substance misuse problems, there was seen to be a particular risk of a negative impact of some housing problems.
42. It was argued, for example, that people in some housing circumstances could find it difficult to access healthcare. As noted in Chapter 2 (pgh 2.48) it was seen to be difficult to register with a G.P. or get medication or treatment without a settled address, and some temporary accommodation provided was a long way from a health centre. It was suggested that some housing conditions could make it difficult to eat or sleep well (e.g. hostel and B&B accommodation), and that these difficulties could make existing health problems worse.
43. There was a clear view that housing problems could exacerbate existing mental health problems, and individuals with mental health problems (and others) gave many examples of their own experiences of these (pgh 2.49). Several mentioned stress, anxiety and depression in particular, but there were also examples of a negative impact on other mental health problems (including phobias and paranoia).
44. As noted in Chapter 2 (pghs 2.51-52), the link between housing problems and an increased risk of drug or alcohol misuse was also described by most individuals and staff in this research. Many participants stated that people who had substance misuse problems were at particular risk in some types of temporary accommodation, and many individuals mentioned hostels and B&B accommodation in particular.
Exploitation and risk
45. A few prison and third sector specialist staff stated that people with mental health problems could be vulnerable to exploitation in the community. One third sector participant, for example, suggested that people with mental health problems who experienced difficulties coping with their housing may be likely to “walk away” from this, so putting themselves at risk of exploitation and reoffending.
46. Another stated that, where people’s mental health deteriorated because of their housing problems, they may be more likely to use drugs, place themselves in “unsafe” situations, and / or commit further offences.
Coping with independent living
47. A few prison and third sector specialist staff stated that people with mental health problems may find independent living difficult, and may have a complex range of needs. Some housing staff and some individuals stated that people with serious mental health problems may need supported accommodation.
48. One third sector specialist stated that veterans with mental health problems may find it difficult to live in areas with high levels of anti-social behaviour. Some individuals who had experienced mental health problems gave examples of their difficulties in coping with a lot of noise or disruption from neighbours.
Availability and accessibility of support
49. Several participants suggested that there was a lack of specific additional support available for people with mental health problems (particularly where they did not have a formal diagnosis).
50. Linked to this, it was argued that there was often a lack of recognition and assessment of the types of mental health issues faced by people serving short sentences. One social work participant suggested, for example, that, if someone attended court on a day when there was not a mental health professional available, they could enter prison with no assessment of their needs having taken place.
51. One third sector specialist suggested that there was a shortage of supported accommodation for people with mental health problems.
52. A few social work and third sector specialist staff gave examples of cases where the accommodation allocated to people with physical impairments had been inappropriate or inaccessible. One suggested that someone with a physical impairment could have significant problems if they were homeless on release, noting that they would be unlikely to be accommodated in a temporary flat or hostel. A few staff stated that there could be long waiting times for adaptations to properties, and that private sector landlords were unlikely to agree to adaptations to temporary accommodation.
53. Any processes involving form-filling were seen to be potentially inaccessible to people who experienced numeracy and / or literacy issues, or learning difficulties. A few individuals who had served short sentences suggested that people with learning difficulties may not understand the formal processes for obtaining housing (including the interview questions). Reintegration staff described cases where people with learning difficulties had found themselves at risk of having no support, as they had not understood the implications of the answers they had given to questions in housing interviews.
54. A few staff stated that it could be difficult for service providers to work with people with mental health or other problems that affected their behaviour. Examples were given where people had been excluded from particular services or areas, or whose behaviour was considered by staff to have been challenging. One CJA participant argued that the stress of dealing with housing issues may make such behaviour more likely. It was suggested that it was then more difficult for the individuals involved to access services.
55. One participant from a specialist organisation suggested that the threshold to qualify for additional support to sustain a tenancy could mean that access to this may be limited for some disabled people.
56. A few staff argued that, in general, there could be a focus on someone’s offending behaviour when considering their housing requirements, rather than recognising that this could mask health, mental health or disability issues.
Offence and sentence
57. A further common theme was that the housing issues people faced, and the services available, could vary by the nature of the offence they had committed, the basis of their imprisonment (i.e. whether they were on remand or sentenced) and the length of sentence served.
Identification of housing issues by people on remand, or appealing their conviction or sentence
58. A few prison staff suggested that there may be a particular risk of lack of disclosure of housing issues by people on remand. These staff expressed concern that this could lead to the loss of their Housing Benefit, and, a result, their existing accommodation.
59. A related issue, noted by some prison staff, was that there could be a lack of awareness among some of those on remand (and some people in prison for the first time) about the importance of identifying and addressing housing issues. It was noted that, at the time of writing, the SPS had identified this as an issue and was drafting factsheets.
60. A few housing staff stated that people who appealed their sentences often did not give up their tenancies, but sometimes did not let service providers know they were in prison. It was argued that they could then build up arrears and face court action. This was described by housing staff as a complex area, as there was a risk that, even if the appeal was successful, the individual may have lost their accommodation in the meantime.
61. A few prison and third sector specialist staff stated that it could be difficult to identify housing issues and carry out work with people on very short sentences. A few prison staff stressed that there was a high level of need for housing work among this group, as many had no fixed accommodation.
62. A few third sector specialist staff suggested that there were also issues for those who effectively served “long-term” sentences, by having many short sentences in quick succession (which, together, added up to a long sentence). They stated that some people in these circumstances had little prospect of ever having a tenancy.
63. Several housing staff suggested that it was difficult to address housing issues where people were released directly and unexpectedly from a court appearance. In these circumstances, it was noted that individuals would be unlikely to have access to a reintegration worker, and may not have been provided with even basic information about how to secure housing.
64. A few third sector specialist staff noted that, where housing was required for a sex offender, it could take 28 days to carry out an environmental screening. This raised, for them, the question of where to accommodate them in the meantime.
Attitudes and assumptions
65. Several third sector specialist, prison and social work staff indicated that people who had committed some types of offences may face particularly negative attitudes which could make it more difficult to house them.
66. The most common issue raised, by several prison and housing staff, was that neighbours could be concerned about having someone who had committed a sexual offence living in their local area. This could make it difficult to find safe housing for them. It was suggested that, in some cases, these individuals could be driven from their homes.
67. Additionally, a few prison staff stated that people whose offences had been high profile, and had received a lot of coverage in the media, may also face problems with negative local attitudes.
Health and social care issues
68. Some specific health issues were described for people who had committed sexual offences. It was noted that someone who had been in prison for such an offence may, effectively, be a prisoner in their own home. It was suggested that this could lead to isolation and mental health problems (or, alternatively, to their breaking their conditions and being returned to prison).
69. Some prison staff noted that a number of those who had committed sexual offences were older men, which made it more likely that they would have mobility problems or social care requirements (which, as noted earlier, may also limited their housing choices on liberation).
Availability and accessibility of support
70. A number of issues were identified relating to differences in the accessibility of support (particularly accommodation) for people who had committed particular types of offence.
71. Many respondents of all types described difficulties in finding suitable accommodation for people who had committed sexual offences. Issues raised included:
- Lack of willingness of family members to house them.
- Difficulties finding appropriate short-term lets or private lets.
- Difficulties finding accommodation with the right level of supervision and support.
- Impact of restrictions on finding accommodation.
72. A few prison staff stated that it could be very difficult to achieve positive housing outcomes with this group.
73. A few prison, housing and social work staff reported that it could also be difficult to find housing for people who had committed offences such as arson, drugs offences or domestic abuse. In the case of perpetrators of domestic abuse, housing and some third sector specialist staff stressed the need to take account of safety considerations for their partners and children. A few stated that it could be difficult to find appropriate housing for people who had to comply with particular court orders and supervision requirements.
74. A few prison staff stated that there could be particular difficulties in gaining access to house keys belonging to people on remand, as permission may be required from the Procurator Fiscal before keys could be released.
75. Several prison, housing and third sector specialist staff noted variations in housing issues and services relating to geography.
Accessibility and availability of services
76. The main comments focused on variation in the accessibility and availability of services by area. Chapter 4 and Annexe 3 described a number of geographical gaps in the availability of services. In some cases, people serving short sentences did not have access to a member of housing staff from their own area, either in the prison or visiting on a regular basis.
77. A few prison staff stated that it was very difficult for workers in national prisons to identify and provide support to individuals from all local authority areas in Scotland. As noted in Annexe 3 (pgh A3:11), this was also a problem in prisons where people were held from a range of different local authority areas.
78. There were also found to be variations in the availability of third sector reintegration and specialist services in different areas. For example, several prison, housing and reintegration staff stated that there could be a particular lack of community services in rural and island areas.
79. Prison staff indicated that, where an individual had engaged with a local organisation prior to imprisonment, the service provider sometimes disengaged with them if they were held in a prison out of their home area.
80. A number of issues were raised, particularly by housing staff, relating to specific shortages of accommodation or low turnover in some geographical areas. Although it was recognised that there were housing shortages across Scotland, including in cities and towns, some additional geographical factors were identified that could have an impact on availability.
81. Housing staff, for example, noted that tourism could affect the availability of accommodation in some rural and island areas, with B&B accommodation, small hotels and flats being marketed primarily to visitors. It was also argued that it was vital not to “upset” the landlord or tourists in these circumstances, as this could lead to a loss of access to the accommodation, even in low season.
82. Some housing staff stated that accommodation costs were higher in some rural and island areas (and in some other specific areas in Scotland) than in other areas. It was noted that the cost of furniture, white goods and other household essentials could also be substantially higher, which could make it difficult to find adequate funding to support an individual returning from custody to new accommodation.
83. Prison staff, and some individuals noted that it could take a long time to travel home to some areas following liberation (where someone had been held in a prison a long distance from home). It was suggested that this could make it difficult for them to attend appointments on the day of release (although it was noted that individuals working with TSOs would benefit from detailed planning to address these potential problems).
84. A few housing staff stated that the weather conditions in some parts of Scotland, particularly in winter, could leave people stranded and unable to reach a housing appointment in their home area on release.
85. Some prison and reintegration staff argued that there was a particular need for pre-planning and co-ordination for people from distant areas.
86. One third sector participant stated that there could be difficulties in providing confidential support services to people in rural and island areas, as it was much easier to be “anonymous” in a city than in a small village.
87. A small number of participants described specific housing issues for people from ethnic minority communities.
Attitudes and assumptions
88. A few third sector staff stated that people from ethnic minority communities often experienced racism in their accommodation (e.g. in hostels, local areas etc.). One participant suggested that people from ethnic minority communities tended to avoid going to one particular hostel because of the level of racism they faced.
89. It was suggested that people from some ethnic minority communities who served short sentences could be ostracised by their families. Conversely, staff also noted that some young people may have considerable pressure placed on them not to move out of the family home (e.g. because the family members felt that they would be “safe” at home). It was suggested, however, that this could sometimes make it more likely that they would rebel, and potentially commit further offences.
90. One third sector organisation stated that people from ethnic minority communities who served short sentences may lack information about their entitlements to benefits or support. It was argued that they may not access these, or may “disappear off the radar”.
Availability of support
91. A few third sector participants noted that there was a general lack of support aimed specifically at people from ethnic minority communities who served short sentences.
92. One social work participant suggested that there could be a lack of provision of interpretation facilities by those providing support to address housing issues. They stated that this was important (e.g. for people who did not have English as a first language) in processes such as assessment, where complex issues were explored.
93. A few participants from third sector specialist organisations, as well as social work staff, suggested that there could be a lack of understanding by service providers of the nature of housing issues affecting ethnic minority people. This was seen to lead to a risk of inappropriate assumptions being made about their housing circumstances and requirements.
94. A few participants from third sector specialist organisations stated that there would be variation in housing issues and requirements among people from different ethnic minority communities. It was suggested that it was important for staff to recognise that a person from an ethnic minority community may face particular housing issues, and to be aware of the importance of identifying and addressing these in providing services.
95. Several service providers expressed an overall view that people who served short sentences were, in themselves, a group experiencing discrimination and disadvantage (which could be compounded by the issues raised above). It was noted that some individuals experienced multiple issues in combination, which could exacerbate: the discrimination they faced; the negative impact of housing problems; and the barriers to accessing and using housing-related services.
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