I may be able to return to my home
If you had safe and secure accommodation before going into custody, you should try to keep it, if possible, while you’re in custody.
This is important if you are sentenced to a short time in prison or on remand, as you may be released back into the community straight from the court.
It may not always be practical to keep your home, especially if you are serving a long sentence and keeping your home might lead to a large debt. Deciding whether or not to hold on to your home will depend on your personal circumstances and the type of housing you have. Discuss your options with a prison housing adviser, sentence manager or probation officer as soon as you can.
Holding on to your privately rented accommodation can be difficult, but it is not impossible. You’ll need to have enough money coming in to cover the rent and rates while you’re in custody. You may be entitled to housing benefit while you’re in prison or, with your landlord’s agreement, you could appoint someone else to live in the house while you’re unable to do so.
If you rent privately, you must notify your landlord of your absence and let your landlord know that you intend to return to your home after release. You should telephone or write a letter to your landlord or ask your sentence manager or probation officer to liaise with your landlord for you.
If you do not tell your landlord what is happening, he/she may assume you have left the property and lease it to somebody else.
Your landlord doesn’t have to agree to continue the tenancy, but s/he will have to follow due process in order to end it. This means you’ll have to be given proper Notice to Quit and, if you don’t leave the property and return the keys by the end of this notice period, the landlord will have to go to court to get an order allowing him back into the property. Get advice if your landlord is considering ending the tenancy.
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Renting from the Housing Executive or a housing association (social landlord)
You will not automatically lose your Housing Executive or housing association house because you’ve been placed in custody.
However, if you are in custody for an offence which also breaches your tenancy terms, the Housing Executive or housing association may consider asking you to leave your house. Your landlord will have to follow the correct legal procedure to end your tenancy.
Notifying your landlord of your absence should be your first step if you want to keep your home. Let the Housing Executive or housing association know that you intend to return to it after release. You should ask a prison housing adviser to liaise with your landlord on your behalf. If you do not let your landlord know that you are not currently living in the property, they may think that you have abandoned the property and could terminate your tenancy,
If you rent your home you should consider the possibility of asking someone to live in your home as a "nominated person" while you're in prison.
A nominated person is someone appointed by you to live in your home and pay the rent in your absence. You will need your landlord’s consent to this arrangement. You can get a family member or friend to live in the property and pay rent while you are going to be in prison.
A nominated person will not usually be entitled to housing benefit unless he or she was living with you in the property as part of your household before you were sentenced.
A nominated person has no tenancy rights. All tenancy rights and responsibilities remain with you as the legal tenant.
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Owning your home
If you own your home and pay a mortgage on it, you will need to notify your mortgage provider that you are in prison.
Depending on the nature of your custody, you may be eligible for some help with your mortgage costs . Alternatively, you could try negotiating with your lender about freezing your payments for the duration of your prison term. If you miss your mortgage payments while in prison, you will end up in debt and your house may eventually get repossessed.
If you are a homeowner, ask the Offender Management Unit for additional support with debt and mortgage problems.
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Help with housing costs
Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to claim help with your housing costs to enable you to keep your home. This may be in the form of housing benefit if you are renting your accommodation from a social landlord or a private landlord or help to pay your mortgage interest if you pay a mortgage for your home.
As a tenant, you will only be able to claim housing benefit if you are:
- imprisoned on remand for 52 weeks or less, or
- you are a sentenced prisoner and your total time in prison is not expected to exceed 13 weeks.
As a homeowner, you will only be able to get help with mortgage payments if you are on remand. Sentenced prisoners cannot get support for mortgage interest. You might have to think about letting the property to someone and using the rent to pay your mortgage, but you’ll need your lender’s permission to do this.
If you can show that you’re in prison you can apply for an exclusion from paying rates. Your house needs to be vacant and your only home to qualify for this exclusion.
A housing advice worker or NIACRO benefits adviser can help you make a claim for benefits. Try to make an appointment to see someone who can help you with your claim.