Homeless Link, in partnership with Clinks has submitted evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into housing and employment support for people on their release from prison. We highlight the need for resettlement support to be offered to prisoners at the earliest opportunity, increased transparency of services commissioned by Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service, and the need for continued investment in supported housing.
Support for ex-offenders: our response to Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry
Capitalising on our membership of the Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) coalition, Homeless Link and Clinks have submitted a joint response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s current inquiry into support for ex-offenders. The response, which you can download at the end of this article, outlines our shared views on where support for people with experience of the criminal justice system could be improved.
The inquiry places a strong focus on the process of resettlement for those who have spent time in custody. As our submission makes clear, successful resettlement, including help to find employment and stable housing, is one of the most important factors in supporting people’s journeys towards desistance: the process through which someone may offend or reoffend before they stop altogether.
As part of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda – recently reviewed by the National Audit Office – Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are now responsible for providing resettlement services to prisoners during the last three months of their sentences. Yet, as a forthcoming report by Clinks sets out – building on findings from Early Doors: The Voluntary Sector’s Role in Transforming Rehabilitation – the process of contracting and resourcing organisations to deliver this support remains unclear. As a result, it can be extremely difficult to assess exactly what support is being received by people, both pre and post release, and whether or not it meets their needs.
Homeless Link and Clinks have recommended to the Committee that CRCs and the National Probation Service publish full details of their supply chains, including the amount of funding passed down to sub-contractors and, where appropriate, the contribution that organisations have made to Key Performance Indicators. Ideally, these details should be published on a quarterly basis.
The current lack of transparency over the exact nature of support on offer to people is of particular concern when it comes to housing. The interim results of a new scoping exercise, commissioned by Homeless Link and Clinks, show that while organisations are being commissioned by CRCs to provide housing services, the provision of specialist support remains patchy. The scoping exercise also revealed a lack of strong strategic or operational links between CRCs and local authority housing options teams.
As waiting lists in social housing continue to grow and the private rented sector becomes increasingly unaffordable for those on low incomes, supported housing remains a viable route into accommodation for people who have previously spent time in custody or on licence. Homeless Link’s latest annual review reveals that over a fifth (22%) of tenants in supported housing have experience of the criminal justice system.
However, given current proposals to limit the of amount Housing Benefit available to tenants in social housing to the relevant Local Housing Allowance, we remain deeply concerned about the ability of supported housing providers to continue to offer valuable assistance to people with experience of the criminal justice system, as well as those who may find themselves homeless more generally.
Although supported housing provides remain committed to helping people off the streets, a significant percentage of people with experience of the criminal justice system remain homeless. The latest figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) record that 33% of all rough sleepers in London had some experience of prison. Despite a recent amendment to the homelessness legislation, extending the categories of people to whom local authorities are required to offer a full housing duty by virtue of “priority need” to include “vulnerable ex-offenders”, these figures suggest that the tests used by local authorities to identify applicants who are in “priority need” are not always applied consistently or correctly. This is very much the case in areas like London, where demand for services is extremely high.
Given these difficulties, Homeless Link and Clinks have recommended that the Committee consider the need for consistent funding for supported housing to ensure that services are able to continue to accommodate people with complex levels of need, including those with experience of the criminal justice system. We have also requested that, at a time when all forms of homeless are on the rise, the government give serious consideration to how best to ensure that people with experience of the criminal justice system are assessed consistently and correctly when applying to local authorities for statutory homeless assistance, in accordance with their legal entitlements.
As a result of our submission, Clinks has been asked to provide oral evidence to the inquiry the week beginning 23rd May, where we will discuss our concerns and recommendations in more detail with the Committee.
Clinks will also publish a briefing elaborating on some of the submissions key themes. The summary will be available on the Clinks website in the coming days.
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Jonathon was our policy officer until June 2016.