Links between homelessness and offending are well-established in literature with about a third of offenders being without a home either before or after imprisonment. Housing has been recognised as one of the key factors that can reduce re-offending and is one of the seven Reducing Re-Offending Pathways established by the Reducing Re-Offending National Action Plan in 2004. The identification of housing as one of the Pathways and the move towards partnership working with third sector organisations (TSOs) to reduce re-offending have led to a number of initiatives which involve housing-related TSOs. These organisations are typically contracted into prisons to provide housing advice and support, or provide offenders with access to temporary accommodation in short-stay hostels and Approved Premises. Despite the involvement of housing-TSOs, offenders and ex-offenders still face numerous challenges when trying to secure accommodation. The prescribed criteria for assessing homelessness, local nomination and allocation policies and the presence of a criminal and prison record are all factors which can delay or prevent provision of housing for ex-offenders. This paper draws on a qualitative study in eight prisons and one probation area and a short survey of 680 offenders to examine the role of the third sector in assisting offenders and ex-offenders to find suitable accommodation. The results show that there have been several positive developments in the last ten years, with many prisons now having a dedicated housing advisor and important links with TSOs and housing providers. There remain, however, numerous barriers to effective housing advice and provision. Factors include: lack of available housing stock; difficulties of partnership working, where partners differ on whether they view housing for ex-offenders with urgency; restrictions on the types of offenders likely to be prioritised and local exclusion policies. The paper also discusses the limitations of recent policies to increase the use of the private rented sector in housing homeless people, and the limitations of Social Impact bonds and Payment by Results. It emphasises the need for a more transparent housing priority assessment system in increasing housing opportunities for marginalised groups, such as short-sentenced prisoners and young offenders, but notes that provisions for greater flexibility, discretion and conditionality in social housing lettings following the Localism Act move things in precisely the opposite direction.
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