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Opinion: Could privatisation provide enhanced services to meet offenders’ housing needs?

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Opinion: Could privatisation provide enhanced services to meet offenders’ housing needs?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

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By Paul Mellish, housing development manager, London Probation Trust

London Probation Trust achieves settled accommodation for 85% of offenders against the backdrop of London’s high rents, shortages of affordable housing and benefit caps.

This success is largely due to working in partnership with a range of housing agencies and local housing authorities across the 32 boroughs and the City of London.

As part of the government’s transforming rehabilitation reforms, in June 2014 London Probation Trust will split into two, transferring around 12,000 offenders to the newly formed National Probation Service (NPS) and about 26,000 offenders to a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). In 2015, it is envisaged that the CRC will be privatised.

It is thought successful bidders for the CRC will continue to build on the current offender housing model which comprises of three elements: managing relationships with local housing authorities & other agencies; providing housing assessment services and support at the point of need; and accessing a range of supported and private sector housing resources.

Underpinning the probation housing model is the ability to develop regional and bespoke housing services by using a range of other agencies to tap into multiple funding opportunities. This requires leadership creativity and drive.

Currently this approach has achieved £1.8 million worth of additional services, which includes 28 housing advice workers, a private sector housing placements scheme and a ‘through the gate’ service. All of which are funded through a combination of grants, charitable and external funding streams.

It’s a great time for companies bidding for probation services contracts to think outside of the box in terms of housing and employment. The bulk of our service users are single non-priority need or intentionally homeless men. On average in London, there are 3000 offender housing referrals made each year to our housing workers. A large proportion require housing advice and assistance to return to family or to homes of their own.

Of those service users who are homeless, it would be fantastic for new providers of probation services to provide additional support on top of the current supported accommodation and private sector services currently available. I hope successful bidders will bring in additional housing services for London, like a fast track housing placement service and more affordable accommodation. If providers could provide rents at a realistic figure for someone earning £240 per week without having to claim benefits to top up the rent this would be an effective tool at getting people out to work and reducing reoffending.

I really hope new providers of probation services will come up with ideas for housing offenders. I think that probation providers need to be creative, emulating projects such as Real Lettings, who deliver private sector housing using social impact bond funding; Fizzy Living, who provide quality accommodation for working tenants; and Boxing Clever by Brighton Housing Trust, which provides homes in shipping containers. One area probation needs to strengthen further is with corporate social responsibility departments of big businesses. There is a huge scope and untapped opportunity there.

It is clear a range of community services are required to tackle offending behaviour. Housing in particular will remain an integrated part of probation services in London, as accommodation helps underpin the task of reducing re-offending. Transforming rehabilitation will allow providers to open new doors to house offenders, potentially working much more closely with big business and providing a wider range of housing services for offenders.

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