Keep your home whilst in prison
If you have an offender that has been sent to prison or is on remand, it does not mean they will have to lose their home. There may be actions they can take to keep their home, whether it is owned or rented.
Key advice for offenders
- Try to keep paying for your home whilst in prison.
- Check to see whether you can claim housing benefit whilst in prison. (see below)
- Do not give up a council tenancy without getting advice.
- Get lenders agreement before renting out a home.
Keeping paying rent when in prison
To keep a house when in prison, the Offender will have to make sure that the rent is paid. They can:
- Check if they can claim housing benefit to cover the period in remand or in prison.
- Check if a partner or former partner can claim housing benefit on their behalf.
- Find a family member, relative or friend who can pay the rent and act as a caretaker or housekeeper.
It is important they act quickly to avoid backdated payments. They should claim at the earliest opportunity.
Claiming housing benefit whilst in prison
Housing benefit can sometimes be paid to prisoners. They may get housing benefit even if they are remanded into custody, sent to prison or given home detention curfew.
If they are sent to prison
Housing benefit can sometimes help pay an offender’s rent if they are in prison, but only for a limited time. The offender is treated as though they are away from home temporarily.
An offender can only get housing benefit if they intend to return to their home.
Inform your council
An offender must tell the housing benefit department if they are:
- remanded in custody
It is the offender’s responsibility to tell the council about their change in circumstances. The prison service should be able to tell the offender their earliest expected release date.
The prison service should use a change of status or custodial sentence form to confirm to the council that they have been sentenced or released.
Prisoner on remand
If an offender is in custody waiting for trial or sentencing or must stay away from home as a bail condition, they may get housing benefit for up to 52 weeks. An offender must intend to return home and be unlikely to be away for more than 52 weeks.
An offender is not entitled to housing benefit to pay for a bail or probation hostel or if they are renting out their property.
If you were not claiming housing benefit, you may be entitled to make a claim when in prison.
Sentenced to prison
An offender can receive housing benefit for up to 13 weeks if they are sentenced to prison, so long as their total time in prison is likely to be 13 weeks or less. This includes any time they spent on remand.
If they have already spent 13 weeks or more on remand, they will get no further housing benefit when they are sentenced.
An offender should notify the council at the earliest opportunity that they have been released from prison. housing benefit can then be claimed.
Keep paying rent arrears when in prison
If money from benefits or rent being paid is less than required from the landlord, the offender risks their rent getting into arrears and possibly being evicted. To prevent arrears building up, payments towards any rent shortfall from prison wages, savings or other sources of income are encouraged. If in arrears already, negotiate with the landlord about how and when the funds will be available pay towards clearing the arrears. Offer might include payments from prison wages or pay the rest after release.
It is important to keep in touch and negotiate with the landlord; this may help delay or prevent court action. Giving the landlord contact details for the offender in prison will help the landlord be directly informed about any further development with them, also avoids letters/court papers being sent to the home address where they may remain unopened.
Can an offender keep a council or housing association home?
It is important that everything is done to try and keep council or housing association tenancy, if it is given up, in circumstances when it would be reasonable to keep it, they risk being treated as intentionally homeless, entitling them to limited help from the council, making it very difficult to obtain social housing.
Only consider giving up tenancy if they:
- Cannot pay for rent
- Do not qualify for housing benefit
- Cannot find someone to move in and pay the rent as a caretaker
Council and housing associations may be willing to agree to re-house them when released if tenancy is given voluntarily. Any agreement must be in writing.
Should the offender give up a private rented home?
They may have to consider giving up tenancy if they are likely to be in prison for some time, and cannot find a way to pay rent. If all other options fail, they will need to let the landlord know in writing that they wish to give up the tenancy. The period of notice will vary depending on the tenancy (fixed term or periodic). It is extremely important that all other options are considered before surrendering the tenancy as it limits any assistance from council who may consider them to be intentionally homeless.
Returning to a hostel or supported accommodation
Hostels have a shortage of accommodation but may be willing to agree to rehouse an offender when they are released if they give up their accommodation voluntarily.