Shelter Offender Services
Posted on 04/09/19
Shelter has been supporting people involved with the criminal justice system since 2011. Our Shelter Resettlement Teams work with service users, across the North of England, helping to obtain or maintain accommodation and to resolve any issues with debts, benefits and finances that service users may have. Our ultimate aim is to try and provide a more stable foundation to those wishing to rebuild their lives after a period in custody or whilst serving a sentence in the community.
Case Study Background
Lois, a Shelter Resettlement Worker, came into contact with a service user, John, who was at risk of losing his tenancy due to rent arrears which had built up during his prison sentence. People entering custody and in receipt of the old housing benefit can continue to receive payments if sentenced to 13 weeks or less. Unfortunately, John had been sentenced to over 13 weeks and his housing benefit terminated. John was adamant that he didn’t want to lose his tenancy, without which he feared falling back into homelessness.
Lois explored options with John, and they identified that if the prison granted him early release on tag (HDC) he would have a better chance of sustaining his tenancy. Firstly, Lois contacted John’s landlord whom she persuaded to suspend possession proceedings whilst a standing order was set up to pay the rent. With an agreement in place Lois assisted John to set up the standing order which the bank subsequently rejected due to lack of funds. On further investigation John, who struggles with his memory, remembered that he had asked a friend to withdraw his money for safe keeping. As time was of the essence John gave Lois consent to contact his friend, who agreed to pay John’s arrears with the money he was guarding for John.
With his tenancy secured for the time being, Lois moved on to the second part of the plan, securing early release for John. This process required collaboration with the custody Mental Health team, In Reach, who wrote a supporting statement, backing John and Shelter’s petition to the prison governor. requesting early release.
In the meantime, John’s landlord had once again contacted the Shelter team to say that they were restarting possession proceedings as John’s account had fallen into arrears again. Lois chased up the Governor, the offender management team and probation to pressure them for a decision around John’s early release. This was granted, and with a definite release date, Lois was then able to approach the landlord and arrange a payment plan for the arrears. She also ensured there would be support in place for John, from the neighbourhood team and that the landlord suspend all possession proceedings.
Finally, as John was on a pre-payment meter for his electricity supply it was important to check the state of his account prior to release. Lois discovered that John had fallen into arrears due to standing charges which meant his electronic tag wouldn’t function. Lois contacted the energy supplier and explained John’s circumstances. They agreed to wipe the debt from the meter and take a small deduction each time John topped it up. This ensured that the tag would function, and a lack of electricity would not lead to John being recalled into custody.
Lois received a nice thank you letter from John, who expressed his delight at all the support Lois had provided. He stated Lois was ‘one of a kind and second to none’.
If you’d like to find out more about Shelter’s Resettlement Teams, or sign up to their newsletters, you can contact William Tetler via email William_tetler@shelter.org.uk
By William Tetler, Project Support Officer, Offender Services