Housing and Reoffending: Supporting people who serve short-term sentences to secure and sustain stable accommodation on liberation

The research focused on the problems that people who serve short sentences in Scotland have finding and keeping stable housing and the services that can help improve housing outcomes. The findings describe a complex cycle of housing problems faced by people serving short sentences, their interlinked causes and impacts and the difficulties these problems pose in desistance from offending.


1. The purpose of this Annexe is to set the research in its wider context. The material supplements the summary provided in Chapter 1 of the main report.

2. The Annexe will cover three main areas:

a. Desistance, housing issues, policy and practice and their links.

b. Legislative and policy developments and provisions affecting support address housing issues for people who serve short sentences in Scotland.

c. Forthcoming developments in community justice in Scotland.

3. It should be noted at the outset that two detailed literature reviews of relevance to this work have been published in recent months. One (Shelter, 2015a) covers housing and desistance issues, while the other covers a broad range of topics pertinent to desistance more generally (Sapouna et al, 2015). The content of these will not be reproduced in detail here, although reference will be made to them at relevant points.

a. Desistance, housing issues, policy and practice and their links

4. The first part of this section will consider a number of aspects of desistance, housing policy and practice, and the links between them. It will cover:

  • Desistance theory.
  • The impact of personal characteristics on housing issues.
  • The impact of deprivation on housing issues.
  • The impact of serving a prison sentence on housing issues.
  • Issues in finding and keeping accommodation on liberation.
  • Issues relating to temporary accommodation and its location.
  • The overall demand for accommodation.
  • The potential costs of homelessness and reoffending.
  • The provision of housing-related services.

Desistance theory

5. In the last 10 years, there has been a significant shift in understanding about the process through which individuals cease offending and the factors which might impact on this. The process is generally referred to as “desistance” from offending (McNeill et al, 2012).

6. Research suggests that the desistance process is complex and highly individual (Sapouna et al, 2015; McNeill et al, 2012). There is now a recognition that, for most people who have committed offences, desistance is a process, rather than an event, and that it can take a number of years, and, in some cases, will require a significant amount of support (Sapouna et al, 2015; Ministry of Justice, 2013).

7. It has been found that the point of ceasing to offend (referred to as “primary desistance”) is significant, but, for maximum and sustained impact, there also needs to be a more deep-seated change in the individual's perception of themselves as a “non-offender” (referred to as “secondary desistance”) (McNeill et al, 2012). It is acknowledged that many of those who commit offences progress to this point largely through maturation, but for others it is a complex process.

8. The bullet points below (adapted from McNeil et al, 2012) identify some of the key characteristics associated with supporting an individual to desist from offending:

  • It is likely to be an extended process involving lapses and relapses.
  • The process and support are likely to be specific to each individual.
  • There is a need not just to develop motivation, but also to create hope that an individual’s life circumstances will improve.
  • The process should be based not only on risks and needs, but also on strengths and assets.
  • It must be empowering for the individual, and planned on the basis of co-production.
  • It needs to encompass relationships not only with workers, but also, for example, family members and others who can exert a positive influence.

9. Research in Scotland on desistance strongly supports the importance of community links, and community support structures (and the role of stable accommodation) in helping promote desistance (summarised in Sapouna et al, 2015)[10]. Research in England (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002) made a clear link between stable accommodation and reducing the risk of reoffending (estimating that it could reduce the risk by around 20%). Similarly, research for the England and Wales Rough Sleepers Initiative (Rough Sleepers Unit, 2002) drew conclusions about the central role of stable accommodation in re-establishing community links.

10. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has recognised the need to access and sustain suitable housing, and this is one of its nine key “Offender Outcomes” (Scottish Executive, 2006). The Offender Outcomes remain relevant today, and have been carried forward by the SPS into the Organisational Review (SPS, 2013) which is expected to guide the work of the service for the next five to ten years.

The impact of personal characteristics on housing issues

11. People who are, or who have been in custody, can experience housing issues and barriers that vary with personal characteristics such as gender and age. For example, research has found that women may face different issues to men in relation to their most appropriate post-release housing options. These can include the need to find accommodation large enough for them and their children, or the need to find safe accommodation to reduce the risk of domestic abuse (Scottish Government, 2012; Scottish Executive, 1998; Reid Howie Associates, 2001).

12. There are also variations by age (Reid Howie Associates, 2001; Reid Howie Associates, 2009; Bottoms et al, 2004). Many young people who serve sentences expect to return to their families on release, with limited understanding of the relationship difficulties this might present, and may find themselves having to live independently with little preparation. Many lack the skills to do this, having never held a tenancy of their own.

13. There are also increasing numbers of older people being released from prison. Some of this group are sex offenders, who face specific housing and other restrictions as a result of their conviction. Many older people who have served a prison sentence will have the same types of housing and support needs as other older members of the population (e.g. in relation to accessibility, proximity to forms of support etc.), while at the same time facing the same issues as others who have been in custody (e.g. social isolation, institutionalisation etc.) (Justice Committee, 2013).

14. The UK Parliament’s Justice Committee received evidence from a number of prisons in England and Wales which highlighted the difficulties staff faced in finding accessible supported accommodation for older people leaving custody, with the result that some were released with no accommodation in place.

15. Research has also shown that members of “vulnerable” groups are over-represented among the prison population. Loucks (2006), for example, estimated that 20-30% of the prison population had some form of learning difficulties (compared to around 2% in the wider population). The Prison Reform Trust (2012) noted that rates of mental health problems among men and women in custody (including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders) were significantly higher than in the wider population.

16. Those with long term reliance on alcohol and / or drugs can face particular issues and barriers regardless of their offending histories. It can be more difficult for services to support them following release, as a result of the range and complexity of their needs (Reid Howie Associates, 2001; 2004; 2013 unpublished; Loucks, 2007).

17. Although not a “vulnerable group” per se, research by Reid Howie Associates (2004), supported by Loucks (2007), suggested that issues for those remanded in custody may be compounded by the fact that they were not generally eligible for induction or pre-release work. In virtually all cases, the research found that they were unlikely to have had their housing needs assessed or addressed at any stage.

The impact of deprivation on housing issues

18. In considering the linked issues of deprivation, housing and desistance, it is important to bear in mind that people who serve prison sentences are by no means a homogenous group (Carnie et al, 2013).

19. Statistical analysis by Houchin (2005) on people in custody (using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) showed clearly that there was a high correlation between the level of deprivation in an area and the imprisonment rate. Of particular relevance to this research, Houchin reported a clear correlation between housing problems (including living in poor quality housing) before being admitted to prison and rates of imprisonment (see also Audit Scotland, 2012; Reid Howie Associates, 2004).

20. Shelter (2015a) noted that many of those coming into custody already faced significant arrears, and may be the subject of court action relating either to these arrears, or to other matters such as anti-social behaviour or breaches of tenancy agreements.

21. Loucks (2007) found that a majority of those in her study of 37 people who had been in custody had significant and long-standing rent or mortgage arrears, often exacerbated by their period of imprisonment. Around one in eight of those interviewed had lost accommodation as a result of rent or mortgage arrears.

22. Bottoms et al (2004) suggested that people who committed offences were likely to have a “volatile” recent housing history. They had often experienced periods in temporary accommodation, hostels or homelessness, and, as a result, were likely to lack community links and connections (as noted above, one of the key elements in promoting or supporting desistance).

The impact of serving a prison sentence on housing issues

23. Research suggests that housing issues can arise as a consequence of serving a relatively short sentence, even were no issues have existed before entering custody[11]. Carlisle (1996) found that some individuals with no previous history of arrears or relationship difficulties had experienced these as a direct result of serving a short sentence. In some cases, a direct consequence was that they lost their previous accommodation. Weaver and Armstrong (2012) also found that the loss of accommodation could result from a relationship breakdown, or from the loss of previously effective support structures.

24. The loss of accommodation, in turn, may make it more likely that individuals will offend in the future (Carlisle, 1996; Reid Howie Associates, 2004; Loucks 2007). Both Reid Howie Associates (2004) and Loucks (2007) in small-scale qualitative research spoke with individuals who had chosen to offend in order to return to custody, primarily as a way of addressing their lack of suitable accommodation.

25. Research suggests that those held in custody may face significant practical difficulties in tackling housing issues. Men and women held in closed conditions have been found to face difficulties in relation to: making contact with landlords; negotiating the transfer or surrender of tenancies; identifying and making application to housing providers on liberation; paying arrears or other debts; managing bank accounts; and, as will be set out in more detail later, arranging for the retrieval and storage of possessions (for example HMI Prisons and Probation 2001; Reid Howie Associates, 2001; 2004; 2013; 2015; and Loucks, 2007).

26. These difficulties have been found to arise, in part, as those in custody have limited access to telephones, and no access to the internet (although this is currently being considered by the SPS). These factors may be little-understood by some service providers (Reid Howie Associates, 2014 unpublished) and may lead to unreasonable expectations about how individuals in custody can engage with services.

Issues in finding and keeping accommodation on liberation

27. There is strong evidence that some of those who serve short sentences find it difficult to obtain housing on release (Loucks, 2007; Reid Howie Associates, 2015). Research by Reid Howie Associates for the Rough Sleepers Initiative in Scotland (2004) suggested a range of reasons for this, including: an overall shortage of bedsit and one-bedroomed accommodation; and a shortage of supported accommodation.

28. Those leaving custody may have their choice of accommodation, or choice of location restricted by the nature of previous convictions. This could include not only sexual offences and offences involving children, but also, for example, drugs offences, Housing Benefit and other frauds, and arson (McDonagh, 2011; Reid Howie Associates, 2004; Loucks, 2007).

29. Research for the Rough Sleepers Initiative (Reid Howie Associates, 2004) highlighted that the refusal by local authorities to provide accommodation to individuals without a connection to that area could limit the ability of those leaving custody to move to another area (which may lessen both the risk to their personal safety, and of reoffending).

30. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) (Scottish Government and CoSLA, 2009) described a range of factors which may increase the risk of homelessness, many of which (including a lack of coping skills, a history of institutional living and previous homelessness, prior abuse, poor education, mental and physical health problems and a history of offending) have been found to be particularly prevalent among those who serve short sentences (Carnie et al, 2013).

31. A number of pieces of research (for example Carlisle, 1996, Reid Howie Associates, 2001; HMI Prisons / HMI Probation, 2001; Reid Howie Associates, 2002a) have shown that many of those who leave prison lack the skills to live independently on liberation. It has been found that they may have difficulty with: budgeting; money management; and even household basics, such as cooking and operating basic household equipment (Reid Howie Associates, 2001; Loucks; Reid Howie Associates, 2009). Many have literacy and numeracy difficulties (Reid Howie Associates, 2002b; Social Exclusion Unit 2002).

32. A number of these studies recommended that prisons could do more to prepare individuals for living independently (e.g. HMI Prisons / HMI Probation, 2001; Social Exclusion Unit, 2002; and Reid Howie Associates, 2009).

33. Qualitative research in Scotland (Reid Howie Associates, 2004; Loucks, 2007) found that many people interviewed reported losing some or all of their possessions on being imprisoned, necessitating “starting again from scratch” on liberation. Most indicated that that they had had to apply to the (then) Social Fund for assistance to replace possessions on a like for like basis only a few months after losing these (Reid Howie Associates, 2004). Reid Howie Associates (2004) referred to this as the “triple punishment - loss of liberty, loss of tenancy and loss of possessions”.

34. With limited exceptions (e.g. local community projects, and local authorities or other landlords on a case by case basis), there is still no obvious means by which those sentenced to custody, and without access to friends and family, can retrieve and store possessions (Shelter, 2015a).

Issues relating to temporary accommodation and its location

35. Although there is little statistical evidence available, qualitative research for the Rough Sleepers Initiative in Scotland (Reid Howie Associates, 2004) found a clear perception among both housing staff and those who had served short sentences that the temporary accommodation provided by local authorities tended to be in the “worst” areas. This was characterised as putting the individuals at risk of: becoming a victim of crime; being exposed to unwelcome peer pressure to commit crime; and being exposed to drug dealers.

36. Carlisle (1996) noted that those leaving prison expressed significant concerns about being placed in a hostel environment, and noted an increased risk of exposure to drugs, alcohol or peer pressure. It was also suggested that, following previous liberations, some had found it difficult to cope when given housing in areas where they had previously offended, or where they were known to drug dealers. Most who had spent time in temporary or emergency accommodation also indicated that they had, at times, found it difficult to cope, partly as a result of peer pressure to offend, but also due to the availability of drugs and alcohol.

37. Research on women who commit offences (Reid Howie Associates, 2001; Scottish Executive, 1998; Scottish Government, 2012) has found that women leaving custody and returning to their previous home areas can be targeted by drug dealers, with the intention of forcing them to commit further offences.

38. The Howard League (2013), focusing on the experiences of men and women in temporary accommodation, found that some residents viewed this as more restrictive than prison. They cited cases where residents found it difficult not to breach their residence conditions, or who found the restrictions (for example on family visits) unduly punitive. Their research suggested that this increased the risk of reoffending.

The overall demand for accommodation

39. Statistics from various sources (Scottish Government, 2014c; Scottish Household Survey, 2014; and the Scottish Government’s “Housing Statistics for Scotland” portal[12]) showed that, although there were, in total, nearly 600,000 social rented properties in Scotland, demand for these was very high overall, with more than 177,000 households on waiting lists. At the end of March 2013, there were only 10,519 vacancies. In the year 2013-14, only 28,842 tenancies were vacated, and became available for re-let. Of those re-let, 37% were let to homeless households (Scottish Government, 2014c).

40. The Commission on Housing and Wellbeing (2015) argued that Scotland’s housing was in crisis, with significant shortages of social rented housing. The Commission also highlighted that the overall lack of housing, coupled to changes in homelessness legislation, had led to a considerable increase in the use of temporary accommodation for those accepted as unintentionally homeless.

41. It was also noted that homeless people now spend significantly longer in temporary accommodation than would have been the case in the past. Each of these issues in turn was noted as placing significant pressure on the supply of temporary accommodation.

The potential costs of homelessness and reoffending

42. There can be significant costs involved with homelessness. The Prevention of Homelessness Guidance (Scottish Government and CoSLA, 2009) cited the average costs to the public purse of a “typical” example of homelessness as being £15,000. These costs were derived from the services delivered to people in the form of advice, accommodation and support as well as costs associated with tenancy failure, the management of vacant properties and uncollected rent arrears. In deriving an example of a more complex case (with costs in the region of £83,000), costs associated with health and criminal justice services were also included.

43. The Scottish Government estimated that the total economic and social costs of reoffending were around £3 billion a year (reported in Audit Scotland, 2012). The report also cited Scottish Government research which estimated the total cost of reoffending by a single cohort of people who commit offences with three or more previous convictions over a ten year period as being £5.4 billion. (The report also suggested that this was likely to be an under-estimate, as it did not include all of the costs incurred by bodies outside the criminal justice system).

44. These findings highlight the importance of reducing homelessness and reoffending respectively (although they clearly do not imply a causal link between them).

The provision of housing-related services

45. There is relatively little research evidence about the existence and effectiveness of housing advice and support services for those who serve short sentences. Reid Howie Associates (2004) examined a range of services funded by the (then) Rough Sleepers Initiative in six prisons in Scotland, and found them to be generally effective in helping address the types of housing issues faced by those serving short sentences and set out earlier in this Annexe.

46. Overall, however, the projects were found to be constrained by a range of operational issues within the SPS and housing services (e.g. the provision of escorts, working spaces, referral processes, difficulties in obtaining appointments and information sharing).

47. The key difficulty described by Reid Howie Associates in 2004 was the significant variation in the availability of services both in, and following custody. It was noted that housing officers then working in prison would only work with their local residents. It was also found that homelessness services would often not provide a single point of contact for SPS staff or other housing staff, nor would they provide appointments or even named officers for those liberated to report to. There were also a range of operational issues relating to approaches to providing temporary accommodation which have since been addressed by the ending of the in priority need stipulation (see below).

48. Two of the main recommendations of the 2004 report were the creation of a single national approach, and to put in place a process which required any housing officer providing support to people in custody to work on behalf of residents of any local authority.

49. Later unpublished research by Reid Howie Associates (2013) suggested that the intervention of services providing support with housing issues could have a positive impact on the post-release housing circumstances of those vulnerable due to mental health problems or learning disability (for example, in terms of securing supported accommodation, as well as other forms of support relevant to their health needs). The research also suggested that the early provision of support had a positive impact on individuals’ levels of stress and anxiety while in custody.


50. This section has illustrated that desistance is a complex process, specific to each individual. There is also a complex interaction between housing issues and desistance. It is clear that many factors can impact on the likelihood that an individual will choose, at any time, to desist from offending. Some of these factors are internal to the individual, while some are external.

51. It is clear from research that an individual’s housing circumstances can play a part in desistance. However, the nature of these links is not clear, and there are gaps in the existing literature in relation to the issues individuals face on entry to, and on release from custody, and the impact these issues can have on factors linked to desistance. In addition, only partial information is available at present on the organisations which provide support to individuals serving, or having served short sentences, and on the nature of the support provided. The current research was designed to address these gaps.

b. Legislative and policy developments and provisions

52. Key aspects of legislative and policy developments and provisions affecting support to address housing issues for people who serve short sentences are summarised below. It is important to recognise, however, that this focuses on the main issues relevant to this research (reintegration and homelessness), rather than comprising a comprehensive review of all criminal justice and housing provisions.

Reintegration developments

53. The Scottish Government, the SPS and its partners are committed to reducing reoffending, and have put in place a range of actions intended to contribute to this. An important element of this has been the development of reintegration, which involves the provision of a range of services to people from when they are first remanded or imprisoned, through their time in custody, and following their release.

54. From the early 1990s, the SPS recognised that it had a role in helping to prepare people in custody for liberation, and in supporting people not to reoffend. Since then, the SPS has introduced many types of support which are now common practice in working with those who serve short sentences.

55. Central to this was the implementation of the “Core Screen”. This is a standard set of questions, designed to identify issues which an individual may face entering custody, as well as the main challenges they may face on release. A section is devoted to housing issues. It is used across the SPS estate although additional housing information was also found to be gathered from individuals held at HMP Perth as part of the Core Screen process (Scottish Government, 2014d). At the time of writing, the core screen was being revised and updated, with a significantly more detailed focus on identifying housing issues.

56. The SPS also developed standard induction processes, not only to provide people with basic information about the operation of the establishment on imprisonment, but also to identify any issues they may face. Where issues are found, a standard referral process has been developed to ensure that these are addressed. Referrals are made using the SPS prisoner records system (known as PR2). This provides space for services to record any work done in relation to a referral, and, where necessary, allows for onward referral to another service. Generally, this information is visible to prison officers and service providers working within the prison (e.g. reintegration, housing, and addictions staff) likely to work with the individual.

57. Individuals in a few prisons may have an additional assessment at an early stage in their sentence, either as part of a prison-wide initiative (for example the “Grampian Asset Profile” assessment, or the “Asset Inquiry Report” at HMP Low Moss) or as part of a throughcare project (for example Passport at HMYOI Polmont, or the PSP at Low Moss, both described in more detail later in this section) (Reid Howie Associates, 2014 unpublished; 2015).

58. In some prisons (e.g. HMPYOI Grampian; HMP Greenock; HMP Perth), multi-agency arrangements have been created to discuss individuals’ cases and develop a coordinated response (Reid Howie Associates, 2015; University of Edinburgh Business School, 2014; Scottish Government 2014d). These arrangements may involve the SPS, housing, JobCentre Plus, NHS and other staff.

59. In all prisons, individuals are called to attend an appoint with a member of prison staff around six weeks before release, although they are not compelled to attend. As part of this appointment, staff carry out an interview focusing on issues, including housing, which may impact on the likelihood that an individual would be able to make the transition between custody and community (Reid Howie Associates, 2015).

60. From the mid-1990s, the SPS began to develop partnerships with third sector organisations to provide services in its (then) new “Throughcare Centres” (now generally known as “Link Centres”). In the early stages, the services available were limited, focusing primarily on support with employability, addictions and mental health. In the early 2000s, the Scottish Executive, through the Rough Sleepers Initiative, provided funding for a number of pilot projects to provide specific support with housing issues. These were generally evaluated positively (Reid Howie Associates, 2004).

61. Two of the projects (Glasgow City Council’s homelessness casework team at HMP Barlinnie and Shelter’s casework support in HMP Aberdeen [now replaced by HMPYOI Grampian]) have been continued, albeit through different funding streams.

62. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 created a statutory obligation for local authorities to provide (among other things) voluntary post-liberation support to those released from custody. Since 1989, this work has been directly funded by the Scottish Executive, and then the Scottish Government. In principle, voluntary throughcare is available to anyone leaving prison in Scotland who is not otherwise subject to statutory supervision. In practice, the nature and availability of this support varies widely across Scotland, as does the level of take-up by those leaving custody (Audit Scotland, 2012).

63. Since the mid-2000s, there has been an increasing focus on third-sector led reintegration projects. The first of these projects were very small scale, dealing generally with people returning to one local authority area from one prison. The Passport project originally worked only with young men returning from HMYOI Polmont to Edinburgh (Jardine and Whyte, 2009) although this has been progressively extended to cover Lanarkshire, Forth Valley and Glasgow. The BAFC Moving On project originally worked only with young men returning to Renfrewshire (Hutton et al, 2011)[13].

64. The “Breaking the Cycle” initiative funded by The Robertson Trust from 2009 extended the scope of projects of this type to include work with additional groups (e.g. adult males), covering larger areas and, in some cases, Scotland as a whole (Reid Howie Associates, 2015). In most cases, housing was a key element of the support provided, whether through direct interventions, or through referral.

65. One project (ADJUST, which operated initially in HMP Aberdeen and then in HMPYOI Grampian) had a specific focus on housing (Reid Howie Associates, 2015). As part of its implementation, a range of improvements were made to the way housing issues were dealt with. A key development was enabling individuals in custody to have earlier engagement with Aberdeen City Council homelessness case workers. As a result, most participants left prison to accommodation appropriate to their needs.

66. ADJUST also used multi-agency case conferencing as a way of ensuring that packages of support were in place prior to liberation (including, for example, assisting an individual to settle into their new accommodation, and arranging for furniture and basic foodstuffs to be available).

67. With the implementation of the first phase of the Reducing Reoffending Programme in 2009, the Scottish Government set in place a wide range of measures designed to reduce reoffending across Scotland (Scottish Government, 2012b). Some of these have been structural (e.g. relating to the overall redesign of the community justice system), while others have been focused on specific initiatives to work with people who have committed offences.

68. The Scottish Government has also provided short and long-term funding to a variety of projects through the Reducing Reoffending Programme Phase 2 (RRP2), and specifically via the Reducing Reoffending Change Fund (RRCF). A total of six Public Social Partnerships (PSPs) have been developed between third and public sector organisations, which receive grant funding from the RRCF to deliver one-to-one support services to those who have committed offences both in custody and the community, and help them address the practical and personal problems that contribute to their offending.

69. The New Routes PSP provides mentoring support to young men with a history of prolific offending (aged 18-25) being released from prisons in Scotland (wherever other similar support services are not already available to them), before and after they are released from custody. The Shine PSP provides mentoring support to women preparing for release from prison, as well as women in the community. Both of these PSPs can work with individuals returning from custody to any local authority in Scotland. The BAFC Moving On PSP provides a specialised service to young men under 21, returning from HMYOI Polmont to four local authority areas.

70. These services support individuals on short custodial sentences, who are not eligible for statutory throughcare support.

71. Of the three remaining PSPs, two are specialist services working with young people from specific geographic areas (Includem in Glasgow City area, and Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire), and one (led by Tayside Council on Alcohol) is continuing a support service in the Tayside region for men and women who have committed offences.

72. Current RRCF funding for these PSPs has been agreed to March 2017. Future funding arrangements are under consideration at present, with future developments being co-ordinated with the planned reform of community justice structures (see pghs A2:119-127) (Scottish Government, 2015d).

73. In a separate development, another PSP was established at HMP Low Moss, to examine a variety of reintegration support services to anyone serving a short term sentence there, before returning to any area across Scotland. As with the RRCF PSPs, the current Low Moss PSP funding runs to April 2017.

74. A further element of the approach taken by the Scottish Government to reducing reoffending has been to redesign the way women are dealt with in the community and criminal justice systems (Scottish Government, 2012a). This has led to changes in the way the SPS holds women in the custody, and to the development of a range of community-based support structures (including the Shine PSP -see pgh A2:69). These are available to women leaving custody and those sentenced to a community disposal (as well as women diverted from prosecution) as part of an overall “Women Who Offend” project (Scottish Government, 2015d).

75. In June 2015, the Scottish Government announced a new approach to working with women who commit offences, with the creation of an 80 place national prison, and five community custodial units, each with up to 20 places. It was also announced that there would be more use of community-based alternatives to custody and, overall, increased levels of support with underlying issues such as alcohol, drugs, mental health and domestic abuse trauma (Scottish Government, 2015i).

76. As part of the Reducing Reoffending Programme, a Community Reintegration Project (CRP) was established covering men in HMP Perth returning to Dundee, and women in three prisons returning to Dundee or Lanarkshire. The pilot was designed to increase the take-up of reintegration support services, by introducing improved screening, referral and information-sharing processes.

77. The CRP pilot was independently evaluated (Scottish Government, 2014d). It was found that, although limited by lower than expected numbers of participants, improvements of the type piloted (including identifying and addressing housing issues) had the potential to lead to improvements in take-up and effectiveness of reintegration.

78. In 2009, the SPS established two Community Integration Units (CIUs) for women returning from HMPYOI Cornton Vale to addresses in the North East of Scotland and Highlands and Islands. The units (at HMP Aberdeen and HMP Inverness) allowed women nearing the end of their sentences to prepare for reintegration by, for example, working or volunteering in the community and attending appointments (including housing and benefits) prior to liberation. SPS staff were empowered to accompany women to appointments, and to work in the community, for example, to develop placement opportunities or address any problems which might arise.

79. The CIU initiative was viewed as positive, and was continued at HMP Inverness and extended to HMP Greenock and HMPYOI Grampian. In the latter two prisons, men are also eligible to enter the CIU.

80. In 2013, the SPS established a pilot reintegration project at HMP Greenock to test further the value of allowing prison staff (known as “Throughcare Support Officers”) to work with individuals both in custody and in the community. This built on work which had started with the CIUs, and continued with both ADJUST and the Low Moss PSP. The project was positively evaluated in 2014 (University of Edinburgh Business School, 2014).

81. From January 2015, the SPS began to roll out 41 TSO posts across the estate. TSOs will work directly with individuals on a voluntary basis both in custody and following liberation to help them prepare for, and make a successful transition back to the community.

82. The work of the TSOs will involve the development of an asset-based, individualised plan. They will encourage and stimulate motivation to change through helping support sustained engagement with key services. TSOs will also act as an advocate on the individual’s behalf with these services. TSOs will work collaboratively with individuals, families, other prison staff and partner agencies.

Homelessness, housing support and prevention

83. Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 (as amended in 2001 and 2003[14]) sets out the powers of, and duties on local authorities to deal with applications on the grounds that people are homeless, or threatened with homelessness. Since the end of 2012, all unintentionally homeless people have been entitled to settled accommodation, where they can satisfy two tests:

  • Is the individual homeless, or threatened with homelessness within two months?
  • Is the individual unintentionally homeless?

84. Additionally, the local authority has the power to identify whether the individual has a local connection to the area in which the application is being made.

85. If no local connection, on investigation, is found to exist, the local authority can refer the applicant to another local authority, which then has a duty firstly, to accept the decision of the referring local authority, and secondly, to provide assistance as defined in the legislation.

86. The legislation sets out a clear definition of “homeless”, which, in practice, encompasses most of those who leave custody after serving a short sentence. There is also clear guidance for the test of intentionality. There is no specific evidence of engaging in criminal conduct being regarded as a reason for ruling that an applicant is intentionally homeless, although this has happened in England (Howard League for Penal Reform, 2013).

87. Local authorities are required to provide temporary accommodation where they have reason to believe that someone is homeless or threatened with homelessness. This requirement also covers the period during which the local authority carries out investigations into a claim.

88. The Housing Support Duty to Homeless Households for local authorities came into force on 1st June 2013. It was established in Section 32B of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 inserted into the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010. It states that there is a duty on local authorities to conduct a housing support assessment for applicants who are unintentionally homeless or threatened with homelessness and, where the local authority has ‘reason to believe’ that the applicant(s) need the housing support services prescribed in the Housing Support Services (Homelessness) (Scotland) Regulations 2012. If an assessment of a need for support is made, local authorities must ensure that housing support services are provided (although it has been suggested that, in practice, most local authorities already did this previously [Shelter, 2014]).

89. Housing agencies have an obligation to prevent homelessness by making appropriate interventions at an early stage. The Housing Scotland Act 2001, Section 2, gave local authorities a duty to ensure that advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness should be available to “any person in the authority’s area”.

90. Since 2009, this has generally been achieved through a Housing Options approach. This is described by the Scottish Government (2011) as:

“A process which starts with housing advice when someone approaches a local authority with a housing problem. This means looking at an individual’s options and choices in the widest sense. This approach features early intervention and explores all possible tenure options, including council housing, RSLs and the private rented sector. The advice can also cover personal circumstances which may not necessarily be housing related, such as debt advice, mediation and mental health issues.”

91. It also involves local authority homelessness services working together with other services (for example employability, mental health, money advice etc.) to assist an individual from an early stage, to try to prevent housing crises.

92. While, in principle, this could accommodate a wide variety of housing and non-housing options, in practice, in a thematic review the Scottish Housing Regulator found that most options considered related to social or private lets, as well as to debt advice (Scottish Housing Regulator, 2014).

93. Since 2010, all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities have worked together in 5 regional Housing Options “Hubs”. The aim of these Hubs has been to promote the sharing of knowledge and good practice between local authorities, as well as the identification of shared approaches to common problems. The Hubs were positively evaluated in 2012 (Scottish Government, 2012b).

94. In a number of areas (for example Aberdeenshire, Lothian and Borders, Moray, North Lanarkshire and Tayside), protocols have been created which set out agreed processes for managing the liberation of individuals from custody. In most cases, these protocols cover housing, as well as social work, addictions and, in some cases, employability services.

95. A Short Term Prison Protocol was established by HMP Perth and Perth and Kinross Council in 2010 (although Angus and Dundee City Councils were also involved)[15] to provide an agreed process to support individuals nearing liberation. This process also involved Shelter, Jobcentre Plus, the NHS and Perth College, as well as social work and housing. The scope of the protocol has been progressively widened to cover more local authority areas.

Tenancy issues relating to custody

96. Where someone in custody has no entitlement to Housing Benefit (see pghs A2:105-106) and has no other means by which to meet their accommodation costs, landlords generally require the tenancy to be given up, in order to prevent the accrual of arrears, and to ensure the best use of available housing stock (Shelter, 2015a). This is generally a straightforward process, although there can be a wide range of knock-on impacts for the men and women involved, and for their families.

97. Landlords can invoke a notice period before accepting the termination of a tenancy (generally four weeks) in order to ensure that there is not a loss of rent. However, where a tenant is not in receipt of Housing Benefit for the notice period, the impact of enforcing a notice period would be to create arrears (as the tenant would have no way of paying the rent). Research for the Cabinet Office (Rough Sleepers Unit, 2002), however, highlighted that the failure to give notice, or to be able to pay rent during a notice period was a significant contributory factor in the level of arrears faced by those leaving custody.

98. Individuals may have a right to transfer a tenancy, or sub-let to another person, but this depends on the nature of the tenancy (Shelter, 2013a) and is subject to eligibility conditions. Landlords’ willingness to agree to the transfer of a tenancy to another family member, or to allow an individual to sub-let was found by Shelter to vary (Shelter, 2013b). Shelter noted that private landlords would be unlikely to accept either arrangement.

99. Where a landlord has reason to believe that a tenant has left their home (or abandoned it) without telling them, the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 as amended by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 gave them the power to institute abandonment procedures to end the tenancy. These procedures specify the range of steps which a landlord is required to take before they can take back possession of a property.

100. One aspect of this is that a landlord must take reasonable steps to identify the whereabouts of their tenant. If a landlord identifies that the tenant is in custody and intends to return to the accommodation, the abandonment proceedings would be stopped. Even if a landlord follows the correct procedures in relation to abandonment, and a property is taken back, a tenant may have grounds of appeal (Shelter, 2013c).

101. Landlords must have specific grounds for eviction. These can include arrears, long-term absence from the property or specific forms of behaviour (including offending) which breach the terms of a tenancy. In order to secure an eviction, landlords have to comply with set procedures, which vary depending on the nature of the tenancy agreement.

102. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced a set of “pre-action requirements” which social landlords have to follow before serving a notice on a tenant. These include working with the tenant to give them clear information about the agreement, exploring eligibility for housing benefit, identifying sources of advice and assistance and, potentially, agreeing a payment plan to meet the arrears. Shelter (2012) reported that payment plans have been used successfully (including by people in custody) as a way of preventing their eviction.

Benefits issues relating to custody

103. Any individual remanded in custody, or convicted of an offence and sentenced to custody, is required to inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), their local authority and the Inland Revenue, about their change in circumstances. The SPS also informs the DWP on a weekly basis of the names, dates of births and last known addresses of all of those imprisoned (either on remand or following a sentence) in order that relevant benefits can be stopped. The names are also available to individual local authorities through their remote access terminals. The reason for this is that eligibility for a range of benefits may change as a result of imprisonment (Citizen’s Advice, 2015).

104. Most relevant to this research are various income or disability benefits (which generally, but not always, cease on imprisonment and will not be covered in detail) and Housing Benefit.

105. Currently, those on remand are entitled to claim Housing Benefit for up to 52 weeks (although, in practice, people in Scotland are generally remanded for a shorter period). Those sentenced to custody are only entitled to any Housing Benefit if there is a reasonable expectation that they could resume a tenancy within 13 weeks, and that they intend to do so (Shelter, 2013d).

106. The effect of this is that anyone with a sentence requiring them to serve more than 13 weeks (even by one day) would not be eligible for any Housing Benefit. In practical terms, this means anyone sentenced to 26 weeks or less. However, when a person has previously been remanded in custody and has claimed Housing Benefit, that period is deducted from the 13 weeks’ entitlement.

107. When first introduced in its current form by the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, all of those sentenced to custody had an entitlement to 52 weeks’ Housing Benefit, but this was reduced for those sentenced to custody to 13 weeks in the mid-1990s as a cost-saving measure ((Social Exclusion Unit, 2002). Paradoxically, that report suggested that the imposition of this limit had resulted in a net cost to the Exchequer arising from: the cost of housing advice and temporary accommodation; the loss of rent; and the impact of being in unstable accommodation upon the likelihood of someone leaving prison being able to gain employment.

108. Universal Credit was launched in 2013 to replace six former means-tested benefits and tax credits, including Housing Benefit. It is currently being rolled out across the UK.

109. Universal Credit takes the form of a single monthly payment, made directly to an individual’s bank account. The introduction of Universal Credit also means that, where a claimant receives assistance with accommodation costs, these are generally included in the single monthly payment. It is the responsibility of the claimant to pay their rent using this money (whereas Housing Benefit for social housing was paid directly to landlords). In some cases, it may be possible for the claimant to arrange for the payment to be made to the landlord.

110. Individuals in custody can claim Universal Credit, provided: they were entitled to the benefit before entering custody; they received an award for accommodation costs; and their sentence does not exceed six months (Universal Credit Regulations 2013, Regs 19 [2] and [3]). If the claim is accepted, only the accommodation cost element of Universal Credit will be paid.

111. In practical terms, this extends the period for which accommodation costs can be met from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for those serving short sentences (assuming they meet the eligibility criteria). Were an individual is not eligible for Universal Credit, they can apply for Housing Benefit under the existing rules.

Payments and grant funding on liberation

112. At the point of liberation, those who serve short sentences are provided with a discharge grant, designed to cover immediate living costs before any benefits are received (but not immediate accommodation costs). In 2015, the grant for people aged 25 and over was £72.64. For those aged under 25, it was £58.03 (Prisoner Funder Directory, 2015).

113. Those leaving custody can also be provided with a travel warrant, although, increasingly, reintegration services (described earlier) are collecting individuals on release and transporting them to appointments, temporary accommodation etc.

114. Individuals liberated from a period of at least three months’ custody are eligible to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) (Scottish Government, 2015c). The Welfare Funds (Scotland) Act 2015 placed a statutory duty on local authorities to provide welfare funds, although this does not come into force until April 2016.

115. The SWF is funded by the Scottish Government, and operated by individual local authorities. The intention in establishing the Fund was that grants should be used in ways to complement other forms of support, and promote a joined-up approach to empowering individuals to live independently and manage their own lives, reducing the risk of institutional care (Scottish Government, 2015b).

116. The SWF provides funding for two main purposes: crisis grants; and community care grants. “Ex-offenders” are eligible for either form of support. Those leaving custody may apply for a community care grant in advance for clothing or furniture to set up a home following liberation. They may also apply for a Crisis Grant if they fall in to crisis following release.

117. Applications can be made to the SWF up to eight weeks before liberation, in order to ensure that, where possible, decisions can be made and communicated to an applicant before release. The Scottish Government’s Guidance (Scottish Government, 2015b) makes it clear that, for people who serve prison sentences, not having a settled address at the time of application should not be a reason to reject an application.

118. The Guidance also makes it clear that local authorities must consider the circumstances of people in prison in devising application processes (e.g. in relation to requirements for on-line or telephone applications). There is also an expectation that people in custody will receive support from prison officers, support workers and peers in making an application.

c. Forthcoming developments in community justice in Scotland

119. Since 2007, community justice services have been delivered through eight “Community Justice Authorities” (CJAs), established under the Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005. The CJAs have two main purposes: distributing and overseeing funding for criminal justice social work; and working with partners (including the SPS) to prepare joint plans to tackle reoffending.

120. However, as part of its plans to reform community justice, the Scottish Government intends to disestablish CJAs, and put in place new arrangements.

121. In May 2015, the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament, setting out a fresh definition of community justice, and outlining proposals for a new structure. The definition of “community justice” (at sub-section 1) includes:

a) Giving effect to community disposals and post-release control requirements.

b) Managing and supporting offenders in the community with a view to reducing reoffending by them.

c) Arranging general services in ways which facilitate offenders in the community accessing and using them.

d) Preparing offenders for release from imprisonment or detention in a penal institution.

122. The Bill also sets out a definition of “supporting” (at sub-section [1][b]) as being:

a) Advising and guiding,

b) Providing opportunities to participate in activities designed to reduce reoffending,

c) Helping—

(i) to access opportunities to participate in activities designed to reduce reoffending,

(ii) to access and make use of general services.

123. The Bill sets out a requirement for a National Strategy for Community Justice, and for the development of a National Performance Framework. This will establish both nationally determined outcomes and national indicators to support the implementation of the Strategy.

124. The Bill also sets out proposals for a new body “Community Justice Scotland”, which will be responsible for:

  • Promoting the national strategy.
  • Overseeing the performance of community justice in relation to nationally determined outcomes and national indicators.
  • Promoting and supporting improvement in the quality and range of provision.
  • Making best use of facilities people and resources.
  • Promoting public awareness of the benefits of both community disposals, and measures to reduce reoffending.

125. The Bill defines “community justice partners” at a local level to include local authorities, health boards, Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Skills Development Scotland, relevant joint boards, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Scottish Ministers (in practice, the SPS [Scottish Government, 2015f]). It is intended that the community justice partners for each area should create a “Community Justice Outcomes Improvement Plan”, linked to the nationally-determined outcomes.

126. At a local level, there is a presumption that all relevant partners, including the SPS and the third sector, will work together in relation to the actions set out in the Improvement Plans. Underscoring this, the Bill also proposes a “Duty to Cooperate”.

127. Subject to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, there will be a period of transition from the eight current CJAs to the establishment of the new arrangements. It is intended that these will be in place by April 2017, and fully operational from 2018.

Further references

128. This Annexe has provided a summary of the key contextual issues for the research. The detailed references for this summary, and the references to other documents mentioned in the report, are set out in Annexe 7.


Email: Julie Guy

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