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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Prisoners become qualified to give Housing Advice

Housing Rights recently presented Ciaran and John*, currently in custody at HMP Magilligan, with certificates following their completion of a Housing Advice and Guidance qualification.

Housing Rights run a specialist housing advice and information service in prisons. In order to help meet the demand, we train Peer Prisoner Housing Advisers to help with initial stages of the service.

Housing Advice In Prisons

Housing Rights run a housing advice and information service in HMP Maghaberry, HMP Magilligan  and Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison. The principal aim of the service is to assist in the prevention of homelessness amongst those entering and leaving prison.  It works to enhance the prisoners opportunities for rehabilitation and community integration, and contribute to the reduction of homelessness and re–offending.

The population in the three prisons listed above is currently in excess of 1400. Housing Rights has 1 full time and 2 part time staff who advise prisoners on their housing rights, and run the Peer project in HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan.

The work of the Peer Prisoner Housing Adviser

The work of the Peer is to help resolve simpler housing issues and address homelessness issues for prisoners, whilst referring more complex matters to the Housing Rights Adviser in each prison.  To hold this role, the prisoner must successfully complete an accredited qualification, awarded by OCN. 

When new prisoners enter custody, the Peer housing adviser delivers a comprehensive presentation on a range of housing matters, focusing on frequently faced issues and some common housing misconceptions, as well as advising everyone coming into prison of the advice service.

Following this the Peer can then provide one to one advice to fellow prisoners requiring advice, addressing how they can retain their homes while in custody, or offering options for new accommodation on release.
The Peer advisers give both time and commitment to prisoners who need it, providing a vital role supporting the Housing Rights Staff to reach more people who need advice .

The peer advisers are an invaluable part of the Housing Advice Team in HMP Magilligan. Because of their skill and commitment, we have been abale to ensure that prisoners get initial, quality advice much earlier, and that those who need advocacy and continued support are identified at the appropriate time. Housing Rights Housing Advice Development Worker

Impact of the Peers Project

Housing Rights’ experience has shown that prisoners tend to engage well with fellow prisoners. This is evident at the induction sessions and is particularly the case for the more vulnerable prisoners who have been through the prison system many times, and may feel they have been let down in the past by a variety of organisations.

Ciaran and John agree that they can be more effective when giving advice in the prison.

“Prisoners open up to us more. If they feel you are in the same boat, in the same situation, they will tell you more”

The project isn’t just about allowing Housing Rights to reach more people. It also provides a vital service in giving prisoners a tangible skill that they can use on their release. 

Daniel* is an ex prisoner who took part in the peer project. Now released, he volunteers a couple of days a week for an advice agency in Belfast, providing housing advice.

“I wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for Housing Rights Training”

The future

The success of this project has been noted widely. On a recent visit to HMP Magilligan, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said that it was a leading example in terms of resettlement and rehabilitation. He was noted as saying prisons in England and Wales should learn from the peer model and he particularly highlighted the work of Housing Rights and the Peers as ‘exceptional'.

HMP Magilligan has used the peers model to develop other peer schemes within the prison, such as careers advice.

In the future, Housing Rights would like to see more peers like Daniel use their skills in a voluntary or prison paid capacity to provide them with opportunities on their release.

Beyond the Gate project

In addition to Housing Advice in Prisons and the Peer Project, Housing Rights offers the award winning Beyond the Gate service. This project aims to provide seamless continued advocacy for released prisoners in housing need. Over an intensive short term period, the prisoner is collected from the prison gate and provided with invaluable continued assistance, befriending and advocacy, linking him in with all necessary support services. The innovative project has had considerable success in ensuring longer-term tenancy sustainment and reduction in recidivism.

* names have been changed

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This article was written on 30 September 2016. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.