1. About this strategy
1.1 Who the strategy is for
This strategy is aimed at Responsible Authorities, local authorities, Registered Social Landlords (as duty to co-operate agencies in managing housing for sex offenders), Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service, Health Boards as Responsible Authorities, and housing professionals in the social rented sector involved in allocating and managing tenancies. It provides practical guidance for those involved in the housing of registered sex offenders.
The National Accommodation Strategy for Sex Offenders (NASSO) forms part of the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and sets out how housing contributes to those arrangements.
The strategy was first published in 2007, reviewed in 2012 and reviewed in 2018/19 in conjunction with practitioners involved in housing and managing sex offenders. This review focused on the working arrangements for housing sex offenders and was not a review of the key principles underpinning the strategy which remain unchanged (see section 1.5).
We would like to thank everyone who helped with reviewing the strategy; local authorities, Sex Offender Liaison Officers, Registered Social Landlords, Link Officers, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Service and the MAPPA Development Group.
1.3 Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements
The Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) minimise the potential risk each sex offender may pose by requiring Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities (including their housing services) to work together to assess and manage such risks. Registered Social Landlords also have a duty to cooperate with these organisations in the management of sex offenders.
The NASSO is part of, and should be read in conjunction with the arrangements set out in full in the MAPPA guidance available on the Scottish Government’s website: https://www.gov.scot/publications/multi-agency-public-protection-arrangements-mappa-national-guidance-2016/
1.4 The National Accommodation Strategy for Sex Offenders
The strategy sets out the arrangements and roles of local authorities and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) when offenders, subject to the sex offender notification requirements (also known as registered sex offenders), seek housing in the social rented sector.
It focuses on assessing and managing the risks that sex offenders under MAPPA may pose by living in a particular community, location and property. Arrangements for individual offenders will depend on their offence and the level of risk they may pose.
It covers the housing of sex offenders managed under MAPPA and should operate conjunction with the:
National Strategy for Community Justice which provides a shared vision to help partners and communities work together effectively to improve community justice outcomes including access to suitable housing. It is available on the Scottish Government’s website at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-strategy-community-justice/
Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone standards (SHORE) These standards provide an important resource to support offender reintegration by improving how their housing needs are met. The standards can be found on the Scottish Prison Service’s website at: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-5363.aspx
1.5 The key principles underpinning the Strategy
The Strategy is founded on the following key principles, which are based on those endorsed in the Report of the Expert Panel on Sex Offending (Cosgrove Report 2001)
- Anyone aged 16 or over has a legal right to be admitted to a housing list (or register),and should have fair and open access to a landlord’s housing list. Sex offenders under MAPPA cannot be excluded from a housing list and blanket exclusions are illegal. However being admitted to the list is not a right to be housed.
- Where a landlord is considering suspending a sex offender from receiving offers of housing they need to consider whether this will undermine risk management arrangements.
- Social housing landlords should not give sex offenders under MAPPA priority for housing solely on the basis of being an offender. Sex offenders may be allocated housing where they have been assessed as being in housing need and are eligible for housing under a local authority or RSLs Allocation policy, and where the Responsible Authorities have assessed them as being a risk to the community and providing housing would minimise that risk. Any decision to provide housing for a sex offender is in the context of managing risk and improving public safety.
- Sex offenders under MAPPA should normally be housed in mainstream housing within the local authority area from which they originate, although exceptional circumstances may occasionally mean that arrangements are required to house an offender in another local authority area.
1.6 Sex Offender Register and who is covered by NASSO
ViSOR is the agreed system used by MAPPA to facilitate the secure exchange and storage of information. ViSOR is a Home Office system used across the UK and records the details and ongoing management of RSOs and other MAPPA offenders. Additionally, ViSOR provides what is publicly referred to as the Sex Offenders Register. ViSOR is used by all Responsible Authorities in Scotland as well as the Police, National Probation Service and Prison Service in England and Wales.
The following are covered by this strategy:
- The housing element of sex offenders managed under MAPPA.
The following are not covered by this strategy:
- Sex offenders who are not registered, because they committed an offence and had been released and completed any period of supervision before the register came into force where the time period for which a Sex offender was ordered to register as a sex offender has passed, housing arrangements for young people who display sexually harmful behaviour dealt with through the Children’s Hearings system.
- Risk of serious harm offenders brought under MAPPA in 2016.
While the NASSO does not cover “other risk of serious harm offenders” and Mentally Disordered Restricted Patients who were brought under MAPPA in 2016, in practice the Responsible Authorities are using the same principles and arrangements for the housing of these offenders and should agree their approach locally.
The MAPPA guidance sets out what happens when a sex offender whose period of registration has ended exits from MAPPA.
1.7 Why housing is important in the management of sex offenders
Housing arrangements and effective monitoring make a key contribution to minimising the risks sex offenders under MAPPA may pose. In addition the absence of suitable housing can prevent an individual from accessing services, undermine any support they are receiving and increase their likelihood of reoffending.
Research in this area has found that:
- support, coupled with stable accommodation, can help to address the risk factors associated with further offending, and allows individuals to benefit from supervision and other forms of treatment; and
- placements in stable accommodation can support ongoing risk management by all of the agencies involved, with formal protocol arrangements in place to allow the exchange of sensitive information about individuals.
Stable accommodation means accommodation that is not likely to change or fail in the medium or longer term.
More broadly the importance of stable accommodation to support desistance from reoffending was highlighted in ‘What Works to Reduce Reoffending: A Summary of the Evidence’, 2012 ,updated in 2015.
The National Strategy for Community Justice also highlights that the Scottish Government believes that people who have committed offences and their families should have equal access to the services that will help them desist from offending. It states that access to suitable housing is a fundamental aspect of any individual’s effort to desist from offending, fulfil requirements on community sentences or reintegrate back into the community after a custodial sentence or release from remand.
This is supported by Shelter Scotland’s 2015 report, Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Reoffending - Insights from service users of the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network, “Prisoners who have problems securing accommodation on their release are significantly more likely to reoffend than those individuals who do not face these challenges.” https://scotland.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_library/policy_library_folder/preventing_homelessness_and_reducing_reoffending_-_insights_from_service_users_of_the_supporting_prisoners_advice_network,_scotland
1.8 Roles and Responsibilities for assessing risks
The Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 (‘the 2005 Act’) places legal duties on local authorities, the police, the Scottish Ministers (in relation to functions exercised by the Scottish Prison Service) and health boards or Special Health Boards – collectively known as Responsible Authorities – to jointly set up arrangements for assessing and managing the risks certain offenders pose. The 2005 Act is available on the Scottish Government’s website: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2005/asp_20050014_en_1
The Responsible Authorities have responsibility for assessing and managing the risks sex offenders under MAPPA may pose.
This is achieved by working together to assess the risk posed by each registered sex offender and implementation of tailored Risk Management Plans with appropriate measures to manage those risks. This may include measures of support which provide a level of stability, which in turn reduces risk.
Local authority responsibility for carrying out these joint arrangements lies primarily with the Chief Social Work Officer within each local authority. Other local authority services, such as housing, also have a responsibility to contribute to carrying out the corporate responsibility by virtue of section 10(7) of the 2005 Act.
The key housing contacts in each local authority are the Sex Offender Liaison Officer (SOLO). Staff undertaking this role may have a wide variety of other duties and may also have a different job title such as MAPPA Housing Liaison Officer.
Under the 2005 Act the Responsible Authorities have to co-operate with each other and with other key agencies placed under a duty to co-operate (‘duty to cooperate agencies’) by the Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 (Specification of Persons) Order 2007. The key agencies under a duty to co-operate include Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).
The 2005 Act defines ‘to co-operate’ at section 1(2)(a):“ ‘to co-operate’ may, without prejudice to the generality of that expression, including to exchange information (‘co-operation’ being construed accordingly).”More information on co-operation can be found in the MAPPA guidance.
Registered social landlords
RSLs are expected, as part of their duty to co-operate, to work with the Responsible Authorities, including providing accommodation where appropriate. RSLs are not responsible for assessing and managing the risks that a sex offender under MAPPA may pose but they do have to co-operate with those who do. Co-operation includes, but is not restricted to, the exchange of information.
RSLs do not have a legal obligation under the 2005 Act to provide housing for sex offenders under MAPPA. However they do have obligations, under housing legislation towards homeless persons (see section 2). They have a key role to play in the housing of sex offenders, and the information they hold about housing and the local community, supports both the assessment and management of risk.
Where an RSL has identified suitable housing for an individual, and the Responsible Authorities have agreed that it is manageable, there is an expectation that they will make an offer of housing. This expectation is consistent with the generality of the expression ‘co-operate’ in the 2005 Act. The duty to co-operate is reciprocal and the Responsible Authorities and RSLs must work together to make sure that they are each able to satisfy this duty.
In exchanging information, the Responsible Authorities provide RSLs with information on sex offenders under MAPPA and RSLs provide the Responsible Authorities with information on available housing, the location and nearby households. Information sharing protocols should be agreed between the Responsible Authorities and RSLs setting out how and what information will be shared (see section 4).
Individual RSL’s should have in place a Link Officer (or identify staff who will undertake the duties of a Link Officer). Link officers are the key housing contacts in RSLs who work closely with SOLOs to identify appropriate accommodation and take part in risk management arrangements, sharing information to minimise risk. They have overall responsibility for delivering their organisation’s duties in respect of the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2005. They are key to delivering the RSL’s contribution to NASSO and are the person to whom the Police disclose information.