ANNEXE 6: SUGGESTIONS TO ADDRESS GAPS AND BARRIERS
1. Many suggestions were made in the survey and discussions about actions that could be taken to improve housing-related services. The suggestions for next steps in Chapter 5 were derived from the types of action seen to be required (as described below).
2. The detailed suggestions in this Annexe link to these suggestions for next steps, and should be considered when identifying specific actions. They could not all be included in the main report, because of the volume of these, and constraints on space.
3. It would be impossible, given the number of suggestions, to attribute each comment to a particular type of participant. There was a high level of agreement across all types of participants about the general areas in which developments were needed. Some overall patterns have, however, been highlighted.
The overall approach
4. Staff of different types, and individuals who served short sentences, suggested a need for a coherent overall approach to tackling housing and reoffending, at a national and local level.
National strategy and direction
5. Comments by individuals who served short sentences tended to focus on a general need for fairness and equality of access to support. Some staff made more specific suggestions about the nature of the overall strategy and approach.
6. Staff of different types suggested a need for:
- Clear strategic direction at a national level.
- Clear policy and processes for housing services and prisons (with limited scope for local interpretation).
- A consistent, defined “minimum” level of service, in prison and in the community, across all areas.
7. Several housing, prison, reintegration and other specialist staff stressed the need for a similar consistent and co-ordinated approach at a local level.
Housing Options and prevention
8. Some housing staff suggested the widespread adoption of a Housing Options approach to housing work in prison (as well as in the community).
9. Many other participants, while not necessarily using this terminology, made suggestions about the kind of approach that should be adopted. These included that there should be:
- Early and proactive identification of housing issues at all stages.
- Prevention of homelessness and housing problems at all stages.
- Early action when problems were identified.
- Forward planning and development of individual pathways.
- An holistic, case management approach, tailored to individual circumstances.
- Recognition of the needs of specific groups (e.g. equality groups) (Annexe 5).
- Provision of timely support.
- Joint working, information provision and sharing.
- A “can-do”, flexible approach, enabling innovation and imagination.
- User involvement and choice.
- Service providers with appropriate understanding and expertise.
- Appropriate attitudes and behaviour (e.g. listening, respect, fairness).
Structure and roles
10. Many staff (particularly, but not only housing and prison staff, as well as representatives of CJAs and CPPs) stated that there was a need for an appropriate structure and arrangements to support a consistent overall approach.
11. Some suggestions were made about the development of a national structure. These included:
- Continuation of a Ministerial group to oversee developments.
- A greater role for the Scottish Government in the direction and oversight of housing and reoffending issues and actions.
- A national strategic partnership to co-ordinate provision across Scotland.
12. Many participants of different types made suggestions about the development of a local structure. Most of these comments were about enabling a local multi-agency approach. Specific suggestions included:
- A local multi-agency partnership with responsibility for all aspects of housing and reoffending.
- A stronger role for Community Planning Partnerships (and the partners).
- A clear structure for accountability.
- The use of multi-agency groups to discuss individual cases.
13. A few prison staff argued that it would be useful to have named contacts in each service (e.g. with a named worker for each client). A few participants with experience of co-location of relevant services (e.g. social work and housing) suggested that services should be provided in this way, wherever possible.
14. A number of housing staff suggested a need for clear roles and responsibilities for staff from different services, linked to their expertise. Suggestions about roles and responsibilities are described below.
The role of housing staff
15. Many participants of all types (including prison and housing staff, reintegration and other specialist staff and individuals who served short sentences) suggested that there was a need for a housing officer or adviser in every prison, available to people from all areas and at all stages, with everyone having access to the same level of support.
16. There were varying views about the best way to deliver and fund this (often reflecting the role of the participant making the suggestion). There was no consensus about the most appropriate way forward, but possibilities included:
- A single national agency with responsibility for provision in all prisons.
- Joint provision by relevant local authorities.
- An independent service provider (e.g. a third sector specialist organisation).
- Joint provision by local authorities and the third sector.
- Provision by expert staff employed directly by prisons.
17. Many participants argued that, whatever the approach adopted, it should be consistent across the country.
18. Several housing staff made additional suggestions about housing roles. A few commented on a need for landlords to have a greater role in reducing reoffending.
19. A few suggestions were made about the role of the Scottish Housing Regulator, including that consideration should be given to identifying:
- How the Scottish Housing Regulator could support relevant processes.
- How the Regulator could take account of the management of void properties when these were being kept for an individual leaving custody.
- The Regulator’s position on homelessness and reoffending.
20. Suggestions were made about the role of local authorities (largely by non-local authority staff). These included that there should be:
- A standard code of practice and policy covering all local authority areas’ responsibilities relating to housing for those who serve short sentences.
- A requirement for all relevant local authorities to work with all prisons holding their local residents.
- A statutory obligation to house people (not just to provide a roof), although not all may wish to take this up.
21. Suggestions were made, particularly by housing staff, about the role of housing associations, including that there should be:
- Direct work with service users in prison.
- More engagement with homelessness issues (with particular suggestions including incentivisation to provide more accommodation for this client group; the creation of a “for profit housing association”; or the creation of contracts covering different client groups).
- More multi-type accommodation to be built by housing associations.
The role of SPS staff and others
22. Some suggestions were made about the role of SPS staff in tackling housing issues.
23. Many prison staff made comments about the future role of TSOs. There was a common view in prisons that TSOs would have an important role in supporting housing work. Suggestions included developing TSOs’ awareness of housing issues in the community, their role in identifying these and in making appropriate referrals (noted as being addressed through training).
24. Suggestions were also made, largely by prison staff, about a need for:
- Greater involvement of residential staff and Personal Officers in identifying housing issues and making referrals.
- More peer support in prison.
- The use of peer mentors in the community, with appropriate training to enable them to provide support with housing issues.
25. A small number of suggestions were made about the roles of other services, which included:
- More third sector involvement to support housing work in prison.
- More third sector involvement to support people in tenancies, as part of overall co-ordinated support.
- Better recognition by the NHS, benefits and employability staff, and others of their potential role in supporting housing work and promoting desistance.
26. Many suggestions were made, by participants of all types (staff and individuals) about the need for adequate resources to provide housing-related services. Comments were also made about the need for effective use of resources.
27. A few staff (including housing, prison and other specialist staff) argued that the true costs of housing loss should be recognised, as well as the benefits of enabling people to keep their housing. One specific suggestion was that a methodology could be developed to try to assess the cost impact of housing problems among people who serve short sentences (e.g. voids; abandonment etc.).
28. The underlying concern expressed by these participants was that too little was done to allow people to retain existing accommodation, even where, it was argued, it would be more cost effective to do this.
Financial and staff resources
29. Many participants of all types suggested that there was a need for adequate financial (and staff) resources to provide housing-related services to people who serve short sentences. Many of these comments were about a need for a general increase in funding for this area of work.
30. A few specific suggestions were made about the overall approach to funding, which included:
- A strategic and / or national approach to funding (e.g. to reflect the overall strategic approach).
- Clarity of funding responsibilities.
- Simplified funding streams.
- Long-term funding, focused on housing needs.
31. A few specific suggestions were made about the need for funding for particular issues. These included:
- Funding to support partnership working.
- A higher level of liberation grant (pgh A2:112), to cover the period until the receipt of benefit payments.
- Recognition by funders that reintegration organisations may need to work with individuals for longer than six months.
- Funding to ensure adequate staffing in all relevant services.
32. Many participants of all types made suggestions about a general need for more accommodation.
33. The need for more supported accommodation was raised frequently (by staff of all types and individuals who served short sentences). Suggestions included:
- More supported accommodation of all kinds, including longer term.
- More “halfway house” provision for reintegration (a common suggestion by prison staff).
- Training flats which people could share, with support to gain tenancy and independent living skills.
- Supported housing to accompany diversion from prosecution.
34. Other suggestions about particular types of accommodation (often made by housing staff) included:
- More and better emergency accommodation.
- More scatter flats.
- “Dry” hostels.
- More use of private landlords (for example with funding for deposits, intensive support and rent paid direct to landlord; or leased by the council from the landlord).
- More use of permanent housing with funding for rent deposit.
35. A number of individuals who served short sentences (and some reintegration staff) made a general suggestion that there should be better and quicker re-use of empty housing.
36. One group of people who had served short sentences suggested the creation of an “agency” which could manage the accommodation vacated by those in custody to provide temporary accommodation for those recently liberated. It was also suggested (by this group and by some individuals) that a means should be found to allow furniture and white goods removed from accommodation lost by people entering custody to be re-used to support those moving into new accommodation on liberation.
37. Staff of different types suggested a need for improved monitoring, or improved use of the statistics available. This was seen to include the need to be able to monitor the nature and extent of housing issues people faced, and the nature and impact of services. It was also suggested more generally that analysis could be undertaken of statistical material to help support issues raised by staff.
38. Specific suggestions about monitoring the nature and pattern of housing issues included:
- Identification of those who serve short sentences as a category of service users by all relevant services.
- Better tracking of people who serve sentences through the housing system.
- Inclusion of housing-related issues in the performance framework for the National Strategy for Offenders.
39. Specific suggestions about monitoring services included:
- Monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of standards.
- Encouraging service providers to develop information about outcomes.
- Gathering information not only about success stories, but also about the consequences when things go wrong.
40. A few staff (particularly prison and reintegration staff) suggested that there should be more recognition (including by funders) that people may experience problems (e.g. difficulties with a tenancy) as they move towards desistance. It was argued that a more positive view of progress made, even if someone returned to prison, would make it easier to include this information in monitoring and evaluation material. It was suggested that this would avoid the concern that this would be seen as a “failure”, which might affect future funding.
Joined-up working, information-sharing and communication
41. A common suggestion, by many participants of all types, was a need to develop joined-up working, information-sharing and communication.
42. A few service providers suggested that there was a need for a more “joined-up” approach to policy. This was seen to involve checking that other relevant policy areas (e.g. benefits, education, employment, health and social care etc.) did not have a negative impact on housing work.
43. Specific suggestions included:
- A shared goal relating to promoting desistance.
- Engagement of all relevant policy areas (not only housing and criminal justice) with promoting desistance.
Information-sharing and communication
44. Many suggestions were made by individuals who served short sentences and by staff about a general need for better information-sharing and communication. Some prison and housing staff suggested that there should be a standard approach to this.
45. More specific suggestions (particularly by housing and prison staff) included:
- The use of protocols, information-sharing agreements, mandates and pathways (e.g. using model formats which could be shared).
- Multi-agency case conferencing wherever possible.
- More use of video conferencing between local services and those in custody.
- Access to PR2 for relevant partners (including those in the community).
- Named contacts for information-sharing.
- Development of a directory or database of local services and contacts.
46. Suggestions were made about particular information that would be helpful to service providers, including:
- Who is in custody (to local authorities).
- Work undertaken in the community (to those working in prison, and vice versa).
- The nature of offences, where this would impact on housing (to housing staff in prison).
- Real-time information about voids and people requiring homes (within local authorities).
- Court dates (to housing staff).
- Services and support available to those entering or leaving custody (to all relevant services).
- Examples of good practice / case studies (to all relevant services).
- Housing providers willing to provide housing for people leaving custody, both generally and on HDC (to individuals and local authorities).
Developing knowledge and practice
47. Many suggestions were made about developing understanding of the nature of housing issues facing people who serve short sentences, and the impact of these. A few staff (particularly specialist organisations working with particular groups) suggested that there should be better understanding of the issues for these groups (Annexe 5).
48. It was also seen to be important to tackle any discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, or unfounded assumptions, both among individuals who serve short sentences (mentioned particularly by housing and prison staff) and among staff (mentioned particularly by individuals, reintegration and other specialist staff).
Individuals who serve short sentences
49. Participants of all types made specific suggestions about information that should be provided to individuals who serve short sentences. Suggestions included information about:
- Housing and benefits, rights and responsibilities.
- Who could provide support at each stage, and how to access this.
- Tenancy and independent living issues (e.g. budgeting; money; cooking).
50. A number of housing staff suggested that information should be provided to individuals about housing “reality”, to try to challenge some of their assumptions and behaviour. Specific suggestions included providing information about:
- Why it is important to disclose and address housing issues.
- The consequences of not taking action.
- The nature of specific forms of accommodation.
- Realistic options.
51. Some suggestions were made by participants of all types about ways in which these kinds of information could be provided to individuals. These included:
- Providing some housing information along with a summons, or at court.
- Providing visible information in prison about housing issues and support (e.g. videos in first night centres; induction information; contact sheets).
- Written individual plans covering reintegration and housing issues.
- More tenancy skills courses and training.
- A “hotline” providing support and advice.
- Open days focusing on housing-related services.
- Awareness sessions / focus groups.
- Peer support and mentoring on housing issues.
52. Suggestions were also made about types of information staff should be given to develop their understanding. These included, for staff of all types, information about:
- The nature of desistance and the role of services in enabling people to work towards this.
- Common housing issues and their impact on people who serve short sentences.
- Issues for particular groups (e.g. equality groups).
- Who could provide support with issues of different types.
- Implications of data protection legislation.
- Good practice, positive stories and lessons from pilot work.
53. It was suggested that all housing staff should have specific information about:
- Ways of protecting tenancies (for example tenancy transfer, paying some arrears from custody, general “tricks of the trade”).
- The impact of their attitudes on their service users and the need for a non-judgemental approach, listening and understanding.
- The importance of using appropriate, non-stigmatising language.
- The implications of Universal Credit and any ways of mitigating the impact.
54. A number of prison and reintegration staff suggested that they would find it helpful to have some basic information about housing rights and responsibilities.
55. It was also suggested that Sheriffs should have information about the implications of sentencing policy for housing and desistance. It was also suggested that DWP staff should have information about the potential negative impact of sanctions on housing and desistance.
56. Some suggestions were made about ways of providing information to staff. These included:
- Training for all staff across organisations (e.g. “information bite” sessions, or through the use of the Housing Options Training Toolkit).
- Awareness sessions led by relevant specialists.
- Support for networking.
- “Roadshows” of support providers.
The wider community
57. A few suggestions were also made about a general need for better knowledge and understanding of the links between housing and desistance issues in the wider community. Several staff (including prison, reintegration and other specialist staff) stressed the importance of promoting appropriate community attitudes. It was suggested that work should be undertaken to encourage community support and inclusion.
58. A small number of specific suggestions were made, including to:
- Provide housing for those leaving custody in “good” areas, to challenge perceptions.
- Promote community conversations (as currently being undertaken by CJAs) to highlight the role of the community in reintegration.
- Undertake widespread community awareness-raising.
Specific aspects of policy and practice
59. Finally, many specific suggestions were made about particular aspects of policy and practice that could be developed.
60. A few suggestions were made about general housing policy and practice (often by housing staff). These included that there should be:
- Common housing registers in more areas.
- Single application processes and common application forms.
- Checking of housing processes for barriers to inclusion.
- An improved approach to housing debt (e.g. waiver of some debt, or for small debt not to be a barrier to securing accommodation).
- Better recognition of housing issues for specific groups.
- Pilot work and learning from practice.
61. A number of suggestions were made by participants of different types (including some housing staff working in prisons), about housing policy and practice in prison. These included:
- Early identification of housing issues and requirements (with the SPS).
- Provision of a specific housing appointment for all, on imprisonment.
- Improved follow-up of non-attendance at housing appointments (in conjunction with the SPS).
- Housing Options and homelessness assessments for all of those in custody who would benefit from this.
- More use of options to continue or secure housing, and an end to abandonment proceedings.
- Requiring landlords to check with the SPS before instituting abandonment proceedings.
- Housing related pre-release work earlier in a sentence (with the SPS).
- Provision of an address for release to all of those leaving custody.
- Development of rent deposit schemes which can be operated in custody.
62. A number of suggestions were made by participants of different types (including individuals, prison, reintegration and other specialist staff), about housing policy and practice in the community. These included:
- Review of the use of hostels and B&B accommodation (including consideration of how to enable better family contact).
- Development of a common “lettable standard”.
- Allocation, where possible, of people to homeless accommodation close to their home areas and support.
- Increased use of “Section 5” referrals by local authorities for this client group (although this would require some policy changes in relation to, for example, the management of voids).
- A more effective system to allow change of area on release (and which addresses the issues presented by the policy of some local authorities to require applicants to be able to demonstrate a local connection).
- More options for individuals to reject inappropriate housing (e.g. for personal safety reasons, or to support progress they intended to make towards desistance).
- Imposition of time limits on temporary accommodation.
- More protection from eviction or ejection from homeless accommodation.
- Sustained and ongoing support to obtain and maintain a tenancy.
63. Some suggestions were made about the development of work with third sector organisations. Several of these were made by reintegration staff, and included:
- Development of projects for retrieval and storage of basic possessions (e.g. furniture and carpet “banks”; third sector storage projects).
- Development of further work to prepare accommodation (e.g. heating switched on, basic food, bed fresh) for people being released.
- Increased use of existing furniture projects.
- Development of improved “starter packs” for those leaving custody, tailored to the type of accommodation they are entering.
64. A general suggestion relating to SPS policy and practice was that consideration should be given to the way allocations to prisons works in practice. Several prison staff, for example, suggested that more individuals should be held in their local prison, or at least returned to their local prison in sufficient time for housing-related work to be carried out approaching release (with one participant suggesting at least 8 weeks prior to liberation).
65. A number of suggestions were made by participants of different types, but particularly by prison and housing staff about SPS policy and practice in prison. These included:
- Improved induction and Core Screen processes.
- Improved follow-up of non-attendance (with housing staff).
- Restricted internet access to allow people to complete on-line processes.
- Easier access to a bank account and other financial arrangements (e.g. payment to tackle debts and arrears; in-custody savings schemes).
- A national approach to the provision of ID (e.g. using a Citizen Card).
- Identification of housing to issues as part of all pre-release discussions.
- Citizenship and independent living courses.
66. As noted at various points in Chapter 4, the SPS was developing some of this work at the time of writing.
67. A number of suggestions were made about SPS policy and practice in the community. Many of these were made by prison staff, reintegration and other specialist staff, and included:
- More use of HDC and more notice of this, to make sure that individuals can identify appropriate accommodation.
- More use of home leave and escorted leave (from closed establishments) for attendance at appointments.
- Additional Community Integration Units across Scotland’s prisons.
68. A number of participants also suggested the ending of Friday or pre-holiday holiday liberations, to help ensure better access to services. As noted at 4.28 in the main report, this is being addressed through legislation which gives the SPS the power to vary an individual’s release date by up to 2 days.
69. Several participants made suggestions about benefits policy and practice for those in custody. These included:
- An increased Housing Benefit eligibility period (although, as outlined in Annexe 2, eligibility for accommodation costs under Universal Credit will increase for those serving custodial sentences, although decreasing for those on remand).
- Prohibition on use of benefit sanctions while a claimant is in prison.
- Allowing Employment Support Allowance claims to be started in custody, to reduce or prevent payment delays on liberation (building on a pilot at HMPYOI Cornton Vale).
70. Several participants made suggestions about benefits policy and practice for those in the community. These included:
- Increased use of discretionary funding to allow those leaving custody to secure accommodation best suited to their needs without incurring an under-occupancy charge.
- A reduction of delays in benefit payments.
- Better recognition and guidance about the issues facing those recently released from prison.
- Development of work opportunities (for example “phased-in” work) and structured activities.
Other policy and practice areas
71. Some suggestions were made about policy and practice developments in a few other areas. These included:
- A national focus on keeping individuals from vulnerable groups out of prison.
- Greater use of diversion, deferral and other alternatives to custody.
- Easier processes to make arrangements to sign up with, and see a community-based GP in prison prior to release.
- Development and delivery of a training programme to help people assess and improve their financial capability.
72. Some suggestions were made about other policy and practice developments in the community. These included:
- Training for court-based staff to encourage them to alert those sentenced to custody to the importance of addressing housing issues.
- Developments to other reintegration support (e.g. out of hours support, and longer term support for individuals where required).
- Encouraging banks to consider developing specific accounts which could prioritise the payment of rent.
- Provision of detailed money advice and welfare rights advice in prison and in the community.
73. Many suggestions were made about Universal Credit. Many participants of different types suggested that, ideally, this would be discontinued. In the absence of this, however, it was suggested that action should be taken to mitigate any negative impacts.
74. Suggestions (many of which were made by housing staff) included:
- Support to identify and address problems early.
- Support to enable individuals to understand and access options more suited to their circumstances (e.g. a direct payment to their landlord).
- Decreased waiting times for payments.
- Options for weekly payments.
- Accessible information (not on-line only).
- Exemption of all local authority-sourced temporary accommodation.
- Better transparency of the system.
75. As noted previously, all of these suggestions can help to inform future developments and supplement the recommendations in Chapter 5. Appropriate services will need to consider which of the suggestions are feasible and practical in the context of their own policy and practice.
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