Pump Court Chambers

Homelessness & Offending Rates – An inextricable link

Blog 12th November 2019
Stephanie Painter

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) 2017 came into effect on 3rd April 2018 and places new legal duties on local authorities so that everyone who is homeless, or at risk of homelessness, should have access to meaningful help, irrespective of their priority need status, as long as they are eligible for assistance. The Act amends part VII of the Housing Act 1996 and is arguably the biggest change in homelessness legislation since the Housing (Homelessness Persons) Act 1977.[1]

Previous developments included the Homelessness Act 2002 which refined and expanded the definition of priority need. The Supreme Court also ruled on the test for vulnerability in Hotak v Southwark LBC : Kanu v Southwark LBC : Johnson v Solihull MBC [2015] UKSC 30. However, these changes were piecemeal and there had been no reconsideration of the principles of the legislation for over forty years.[2]

The HRA 2017 was therefore a significant development, but has this been effective in relation to the criminal justice system and the rates of offending and re-offending, which are inextricably linked to homelessness?

People who have experience of the criminal justice system disproportionately suffer homelessness and this can be a major factor in offending and re-offending.[3]

Any adult who receives a custodial sentence of more than one day will leave prison with a minimum of 12 month’s community supervision and a named probation officer. In theory, they should have an address to go to and may have had resettlement support prior to being released. Yet, despite this, individuals are often falling into homelessness and rough sleeping in the weeks and months after being released. [4]

In reality, there is a serious lack of housing and support options available for people leaving custody. While it has been found to be less common for people to sleep rough immediately on release from custody, in order to avoid becoming street homeless, it’s common for people leaving prison to move into inappropriate or unstable situations, which quickly lead to crisis point.

People are finding themselves in insecure positions that expose them to previous addictions and can lead to re-offending. A Ministry of Justice report in 2012 highlighted the stark statistics relating homelessness to reoffending rates.[5]

  • 60% of prisoners believed that having a place to live was important in stopping them from reoffending in the future.
  • 79% who reported being homeless before custody were reconvicted in the first year after release
  • When asked how long they had been living in their accommodation prior to custody, among those who did not report being homeless, 44% stated that they had lived in their accommodation for less than a year, and 28% had lived there for less than six months.
  • Prisoners who stated needing help with a drug problem were also more likely to state that having somewhere to live will be important in stopping them reoffending in the future.

Many prisoners reported problems with accommodation prior to custody and accommodation needs on release. This report demonstrated that these problems can be associated with reconviction – particularly as prisoners who stated that they would need help finding somewhere to live when released were more likely to be reconvicted, as were previously homeless prisoners.

Although it is clear that homelessness cannot be looked at in isolation from other socio-economic problems or needs, the MOJ report concluded that targeted help with accommodation upon release, based on awareness of prisoners’ circumstances pre-custody, may impact positively on reoffending rates.

On 23 July 2019, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a call for evidence on the following aspects of the HRA 2017:

  • The impact the Act has had and the outcomes that are being achieved;
  • how has the Act changed the approach of local housing authorities and their partners to tackling homelessness and supporting those in need;
  • the experience of people approaching their local housing authority for help;
  • how the implementation of the Act has been resourced, including the level of new burdens funding to assist this; and
  • what elements of the Act and processes are working well, and which might need adjustment.

The consultation closed on the 15 October 2019 and the outcome will certainly be one to watch. Progress in this area is vital to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in the criminal justice system have an opportunity to avoid the vicious cycles of homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse, which is clearly a significant cause of offending and re-offending. The results of this consultation and the implementation of the HRA 2017, will therefore be of interest to criminal practitioners across the UK.

  1. Implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act”, Homeless Link, November 2018, available at www.homeless.org.uk
  2. No One Turned Away: Changing the law to prevent and tackle homelessness” Gousy, H. (2016) London: Crisis
  3. Working with Prison Leavers”, Homeless Link, March 2018, available at https://www.homeless.org.uk/
  4. Working with Prison Leavers” Homeless Link, March 2018, available at https://www.homeless.org.uk/
  5. “Accommodation, homelessness and reoffending of prisoners: results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) Survey” Kim Williams, Jennifer Poysner and Kathryn Hopkins, Ministry of Justice, March 2012, click here to view.
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