It’s not always possible to return to your home after leaving prison. You might have lost your home because you couldn’t keep up with mortgage or rent payments, your relationship broke up or your landlord repossessed the property. If you don’t have a home to go to upon release, you need to find alternative accommodation. The sooner you start making arrangements, the better. If you’re in prison, the best way to get advice is to talk to the Prison Housing Advice Development Worker.
Everyone in Northern Ireland has certain housing options, each of these has its advantages and disadvantages.
A private tenancy might be the quickest route for people leaving prison, but you’ll probably be asked for some, or all, of the following
- deposit – usually one month’s rent
- a month’s rent in advance
- a guarantor
- a reference from a former landlord.
It’s not always possible to get all this together, particularly if you’re relying on housing benefit to help with your rent.
Smartmove is a tenancy support scheme, provided by First Housing Aid & Support Services. It operates throughout Northern Ireland.
Smartmove works with a large number of private landlords to assist homeless people find accommodation in the private rented sector. Smartmove offers a deposit savings option. This means you'll only be asked to pay part of your deposit upfront and you'll be allowed to pay the rest off over the next few months If you accept a tenancy with Smartmove you will lose any points you have been given under the selection scheme and will be removed from the social housing waiting list.
If you've never rented before, you should make sure you're aware of your rights and responsibilities by reading our advice for private tenants.
Social housing is usually less expensive, but can be difficult to obtain due to large waiting lists. If you apply to the Housing Executive for housing or present as homeless, you may have to wait for a long time before you’re offered permanent accommodation. You should apply to the Housing Executive as early as possible if you want to get on the social housing list. A housing adviser in your prison can help you make an application.
You can apply for assistance under the homelessness legislation if you’re likely to be homeless within 28 days. The Prison Housing Advice Development Worker or a probation officer at the prison can help you apply and explain the process to you.
For the Housing Executive to accept that they have a duty to find you somewhere permanent to live you'll need to show that you are
- homeless or going to be homeless within 28 days - this means that there's nowhere that you can reasonably continue to occupy as your home
- eligible for social housing - certain people from abroad and people who have a history of certain types of anti-social behaviour are not eligible
- in priority need - parents of dependent children, prisoners who have spent at least 4 years continuously in prison, people with disabilities or people who are vulnerable in some other way
- unintentionally homeless - your homelessness is not because of something you deliberately did or failed to do.
Not everyone will meet these criteria. If you fail one of the 4 tests for homelessness, you have a legal right to have that decision reviewed by a senior member of staff at the Housing Executive.
If you’re reading this because a friend or family member is in prison and you’re worried about where they’ll go when they get out, call Housing Rights or another advice organisation to chat about the options available.
Getting appropriate advice is crucial if you have no place to go to when you are discharged.
Settling back into the community is not always easy. Make use of any support that’s available to you in the run up to release. If you have told someone who works at the prison that you're going to be homeless a referral should have been made for you to see the prison's Housing Advice Development Worker, your Sentence Manager, your Probation Officer or the prison Housing Officer.
There are some hostels that will accept you without needing a referral from an advice agency or the prison or other government agency. However, these prisons will not usually accept people who have committed certain types of offences, such as arson or sex offences.
Having a safe and settled place to go to after release can give you a helpful boost when job hunting, claiming benefits, receiving health care and accessing other services.