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When everyone has a home

Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

ADVISER: Finding housing solutions for people in custody


An adviser based at Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison, discusses one of her recent cases, where she worked in partnership with the Beyond the Gate team at Housing Rights not just to secure a tenancy for a newly-released client, but also to ensure that the individual had the right support in place to cope independently in the community.

Meeting Ann for the first time

Ann was sentenced to serve 6 months in custody and a further 8 months on licence. Prior to her committal Ann had been staying in temporary accommodation for a number of months. When she was taken into custody, a support officer at the hostel she’d been living in contacted Housing Rights and asked that a member of staff visit Ann to help her sort out her housing situation. 

When I met Ann, she explained that she was registered with the Housing Executive but was worried that offers were being made to her while she was in prison and that she could end up being disqualified from housing if she didn’t respond to these offers. During our chat, I suggested that I could contact NIHE and explain Ann’s situation. We will often ask NIHE to defer offers to a client while they are in custody. This ensures that allocations aren’t held up while NIHE is waiting for a response from someone who isn’t in a position to give one and that the individual isn’t penalised further by losing their points or being removed from the waiting list just because they’ve been in custody.  With Ann’s permission, I contacted the Housing Executive and asked that Ann’s position on the waiting list be leapfrogged until she was in a position to accept an offer.

Arranging furniture storage and explaining the waiting list

During our chat, Ann told me she’d left some of her possessions in the hostel and was worried that these would be disposed of. Ann had Full Duty Applicant status and, as such, the Housing Executive has certain duties towards her.  One of these is to provide furniture storage for her possessions, so I liaised with the Housing Executive and the hostel to arrange for Ann’s belongings to be removed and stored.

Ann and I also spoke about the areas that she’d put on her housing application form. I explained that the length of time you’ll wait for an offer can increase if your areas are quite narrow or in very high demand.  After some consideration, Ann decided to change her areas slightly to increase her chances of getting an offer of a social tenancy.

Accepting an offer of a new tenancy

Roughly 8 weeks prior to her release I applied for the deferral on Ann’s housing file to be lifted and Ann soon received an offer of accommodation. By this stage, Ann was taking part in the “working-out” scheme and I arranged to see her at her daily work placement.

During this meeting, I talked to Ann about the Housing Benefit rules and explained that she would not be entitled to Housing Benefit for this tenancy until she was released. I also explained that she might have to wait several weeks before signing for the tenancy, as the Housing Executive would need to do "change of tenancy" checks and may have had to carry out some repairs to the property. 

Putting the right support in place to ensure a successful housing solution

Once Ann decided to accept the tenancy, I arranged for her to sign her tenancy agreement.  Our Beyond the Gate team stepped in to provide support to Ann from the moment she left prison. Ann was met by Housing Rights staff on the day of her release and brought to her new home.  Our Beyond the Gate team helped her get registered with a GP, apply for relevant benefits and helped her to start stocking her new home with a few essentials.  The Beyond the Gate staff were able to find a floating support service who could take Ann on as a client and our staff are starting to phase out their support as Ann has been doing really well in her new home and is managing fantastically with a bit of additional help from her floating support worker.   Ann’s case was a great example of how different agencies and projects can work together to ensure a smooth resettlement for a very vulnerable person.

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Social Tenancies, Practical tips, Adviser