‘Have you got anybody you can stay with?’ - Housing options for young adults leaving custody

A study which aims to provide a snapshot of the barriers that young people face when they are seeking safe and stable housing on release from custody. Considering these barriers alongside the wider policy context, we wanted to provide a renewed focus on this critical challenge and explore how we could collectively work together to provide practical solutions.

Centrepoint and Nacro deliver housing and support services to thousands of vulnerable young people and recognise the importance of giving a young person the right type of accommodation to support them to move forward with their life, including those leaving custody. The aim of this report is to provide practical recommendations to remove barriers to housing for this group.

Executive Summary

Safe and stable housing is a critical factor in reducing reoffending rates for young people leaving custody. It provides the foundations for a young person to rebuild their life and move forward into a positive future away from crime. However, many young custody leavers face severe challenges in accessing accommodation on release; a situation which can push them into homelessness, chaotic housing situations and reoffending. Centrepoint and Nacro have conducted this research to examine the housing options and support in place for young people as they leave the prison system. The research is based on interviews with young custody leavers aged 18 to 25, and interviews with the practitioners who support them across a range of agencies. This research was carried out in late 2017, before the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) and before the clarification from Government that all young people under 21 who have secured accommodation would be able to claim housing costs through Universal Credit.

Our analysis highlights three thematic requirements and associated barriers which we believe need to be addressed to enable young people to access safe and secure accommodation on release from custody. While we continue to call for a joined up, cross government Housing Strategy which meets the needs of vulnerable people, including young people that leave the criminal justice system each year, we have identified some practical solutions, that if adopted in the current system could make a real difference to young people leaving custody and experiencing barriers to accessing safe and stable housing.

Key findings and recommendations


a) Young people leaving custody need the right preparation:

  • Young people leaving custody should have a resettlement plan to ensure that their housing needs are met and necessary services are in place prior to their release; however, many of the participants in the research reported that planning was insufficient and not done far enough ahead of their release to be effective.
  • Disruptions such as transfers to different prisons during a sentence can hinder effective pre-release planning and mean that young people miss out on the engagement and support they need.
  • Inconsistencies in joint working between prisons, community rehabilitation companies (CRC) and the National Probation Service (NPS) make it difficult to offer consistent pre- and post-release preparation and assistance. Practitioners also highlighted high workloads and insufficient resources as barriers to providing meaningful support.
  • Young people in custody for short periods or recalled to custody may not have the opportunity to engage with housing and post-release planning, increasing the risk of poor housing outcomes and reoffending upon release.
  • Home Detention Curfew (HDC) can ease the transition from custody, improve access to employment and training opportunities and assist resettlement in general. However, practitioners expressed concerns that some young people who would be eligible cannot access HDC because they do not have housing to go to or provide unsuitable home addresses.

b) Young people leaving custody need access to a safe and stable home with an ongoing support network:

  • Too many young people experience homelessness after leaving custody. Across Centrepoint’s accommodation, young custody leavers are almost twice as likely to have slept rough as those without experience with the prison system. This risks them turning to negative support networks and reoffending in order to secure a bed for the night.
  • Historically some local housing authorities have not assessed young people until they have left custody, even though pre-release work with probation and rehabilitation services may begin months before. This means young people are only able to engage at a point of crisis, undermining efforts to prevent homelessness.
  • Prior to the HRA some young custody leavers are seen as having made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ by their local authority on the basis of having been convicted of a crime, and in general are not seen as being in priority need for homelessness assistance despite their vulnerability. The implementation of the HRA provides an opportunity to ensure this is no longer possible.
  • While supported accommodation is often the most suitable option for young people leaving custody, proposed changes to funding may put services at risk, particularly those that support people without a statutory right to housing.
  • The private rented sector is largely inaccessible for young custody leavers, with high upfront costs which are unaffordable for many prison leavers. Interviewees also highlighted landlords’ reluctance to let to young people in general and especially young custody leavers.
  • Returning to the family is often a young person’s best accommodation option after leaving custody and the retention of family links throughout a sentence can decrease the chance of reoffending. However, this does not work for those young people who have come from an unstable family situation, and should not be assumed as the best option in every case.

c) Young people leaving custody need financial security:

  • Making a claim for Universal Credit can be difficult while in custody, where access to the internet and Jobcentre Plus work coaches is limited and inconsistent and where young people may not have the documentation they need to complete an application. However, these barriers are leading to unacceptable delays in receiving essential financial support after release.
  • Lower entitlements to benefits make it much more difficult for custody leavers to access appropriate housing they can afford. The Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) drastically limits the accommodation available and can force custody leavers into shared housing which may not be appropriate for their needs.
  • The discharge grant someone receives when leaving prison has remained at £46 for over 15 years. For young custody leavers trying to make a fresh start whilst looking for employment or waiting for benefits to be processed, this amount is not enough for them to get back on their feet.
  • Finding and sustaining employment is key to securing accommodation and reducing reoffending. The research highlights some innovative and effective training programmes, building in wraparound support around employment, but found that provision is inconsistent across the wider prison and probation estate.
  • Criminal records present a major barrier for young custody leavers looking to access employment, with both employers and applicants unsure what legally needs to be disclosed.


We are calling for a cross departmental approach to improve the housing options for young adults leaving custody.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice should work together to:

  • Guarantee that deposits and rent for the first month for young adults leaving custody if going into private rented accommodation
  • Ensure relevant learning from the Homelessness Trailblazers, including prison pre-release protocols, specific to young people leaving custody, is disseminated and embedded into local authority practice across England
  • Fund programmes across all prisons to educate all young people leaving custody on tenancy management as part of preparation for release and provide mentors to help young people sustain tenancies on release as well as helping to allay landlord fear
  • Co-invest in the development and supply of innovative housing models for young custody leavers, including through social investment
  • Collate and publish national data on the number of young adults leaving custody and their housing needs and outcomes
  • Ensure funding for supported housing is directly linked to a national housing needs assessments of young people leaving custody

The Ministry of Justice should:

  • Increase the use of community sentences to replace short custodial sentences and consider the Scottish justice system approach against a presumption of custodial sentences of 3 months or less
  • Work with the judiciary to understand the impact that a custodial sentence can have on a young person’s housing situation and potential homelessness
  • Ensure that alongside the funding and implementation of the Farmer Review recommendations, early family support is in place where identified as appropriate for a young person to return home including a focus on building and maintaining positive relationships while in custody and access to release on temporary licence (ROTL)
  • Ensure that where use of Home Detention Curfew would be beneficial and appropriate to a young person, there is adequate supply of accommodation
  • Commission a fundamental review and reform the overly complex criminal records regime
  • Increase the discharge grant in line with inflation
  • Provide a funding mechanism so that where young people have claimed an advance payment, it is not deducted from future Universal Credit payments

Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service should:

  • Plan releases of young people so they are not released on a Friday and/or at a time of the day when they will not be able to present at a local housing authority or the Jobcentre Plus
  • Amend Basic Custody Screening Tools to ensure that where the young person has identified they will return to family on discharge, specific questions focus on the suitability of this and flag a need for targeted support throughout custody

Local housing authorities should:

  • Ensure that advice and information developed for custody leavers (as per the Homelessness Reduction Act) includes clear information about emergency financial support, such as hardship payments

Department for Work and Pensions should:

  • Exempt all custody leavers under 25 from the shared accommodation rate of the local housing allowance to increase their ability to access a private rented tenancy
  • Facilitate advance claims to Universal Credit for those preparing to leave custody, whether this is online or via a paper form, so that custody leavers can prepare their benefit claim prior to release and then submit it immediately upon release