HOUSING ISSUES WITH A CRIMINAL RECORD
When you have unspent criminal convictions, it can be hard to find housing and things like criminal convictions insurance when you have a place to live. There are a number of reasons for this but, unfortunately, many of them may not be considered fair or reasonable. Though many insurers will refuse to even offer you a quote once you reveal your unspent convictions, Homeprotect is different.
Local authority housing policies
When it comes to local authority or council housing, you might find that there are policies preventing you from joining a waiting list when you have unspent criminal convictions, or at least categorising you as low priority for scarce housing stock. This is despite the existence of numerous studies which show that stable accommodation reduces the risk of re-offending.
The private sector
In the private sector it is quite common for landlords and letting agencies to ask you to disclose details about your criminal record, and they may refuse to rent to you based on this information. Though there are landlords dedicated to offering accommodation specifically for former offenders, they are far from being in the majority. Often when you disclose unspent convictions to a potential landlord it will result in you being refused a rental opportunity, even in cases where the convictions are neither relevant nor pertinent to the situation.
Keeping your rented home while you’re in prison
Citizens Advice advises that holding onto your home should be a top priority for those entering the prison system, so that you have somewhere to live when your sentence is served.
They also state that this might not be an easy task, particularly for those serving longer sentences. If your sentence is short you stand a better chance of keeping your home, but swift action is imperative (in either case) and obtaining advice from a specialist as quickly as possible is your best option.
ASK FOR SPECIALIST ADVISERS IN PRISON
You can arrange to see a specialist adviser in most UK prisons, who will be able to help you with your housing needs when entering and leaving prison. If you are not seen by one of these advisers within four days of entering prison, you should ask a staff member to arrange a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity. It is usually better to contact your landlord as soon as possible, explaining what has happened and asking them to write to you at the prison. Not disclosing your address whilst in prison may be counterproductive at this stage, and could lead to you missing out on important correspondence. If you were on any Housing or Council Tax Benefit before being sent to prison, you will also need to inform your local council about your change of circumstances. Failure to tell them might result in you having to pay back benefits later on.
LEGAL GROUNDS FOR EVICTION
Your landlord must have legal grounds to evict you from your home and usually these grounds take the form of ‘failure to pay rent’ whilst in prison. There are other grounds as well, but since the rent issue is the most common, it should be addressed first. If you are an unconvicted prisoner, you can get Housing Benefit for up to 52 weeks, as long as you are not expected to be away from home for longer than that time and that you are expecting to return to your home at the end of it. For convicted prisoners, you can claim for up to 13 weeks as long as you are not going to be in prison for longer than that time and you will return home at the end of the 13 week period. If your family are going to be living in your home, they can make a claim for Housing Benefit in your place.
CAN YOU SUBLET?
Though it is often forbidden by tenancy agreements, you should check to see if you are permitted to sublet your home. If it is forbidden, then you should not do this. Alternatively, you could ask a trusted friend or family member to act as your housekeeper and pay the rent in your place; they will not be able to claim Housing Benefit, and they should be someone that you can rely on to pay on time and follow all the other rules of your tenancy. If you are a council tenant, you should ask the council if they would consider writing off any accrued rent arrears. They may do this if the option is likely to prove cheaper than the costs of eviction.
There have been several instances where concerns have been raised about how police forces might be arranging to share criminal record data with local authorities and housing associations. Where this is taking place it might be said that the rights afforded to ex-offenders under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 are being circumvented in contravention of data protection legislation. If you are concerned about how your record data might be being handled, you may wish to seek further information from Unlock.
Opening a bank account when you have a conviction
If you have been convicted of fraud, you may have difficulty in opening a bank account and this, in turn, can cause you problems when it comes to the process of paying resnt, especially to a private landlord.
If you have been declined a financial product, such as a bank account, CIFAS (Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System) may be able to help you find out why. Another option if you’e in this situation is to avoid mainstream banks and instead open an account with a specialist provider of managed accounts for people who have been in financial difficulty. Noe that managed bank accounts charge you fees.
When applying for insurance the provider may ask questions regarding unspent criminal convictions. If this is the case you must answer the questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. This applies to anyone living at your property.
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Landlords understandably dread void between tenants, but they’re also a fact of life if you have a buy-to-let property. And sometimes you may actually choose to leave your property tenantless for a period, perhaps so that you can decorate it or carry out a more substantial renovation which will allow you to charge higher rents in future or just simply attract tenants more easily. This might include putting in a new kitchen or bathroom, or even build an extension which includes an extra bedroom.
If your property is vacant, it’s important that you tell your insurance provider this to avoid unpleasant surprises in the event you need to make a claim. In the case of Homeprotect policies, we need to know if this type if property is untenanted for more than 21 days. As we specialise in renovation cover as well as landlord insurance, it’s likely that you’ll only need to adjust your existing Homeprotect policy in either of these situations, but the important thing is that you keep us up to date with what’s going on.
If you’ve inherited an empty property or you’re the executor for someone‘s will that is going through probate, it’s important that you insure the unoccupied property until such time as it is sold or rented out.
Unused properties which have belonged to an elderly person have often not been maintained, so you may need to fit better window or door locks in order to get competitively-priced empty house insurance, or even to get cover at all. This will reduce the risk of squatters gaining access to the property, which almost always causes the property owner a lot of work as well as worry.
Tip: Although boarding up windows may seem more secure than leaving dilapidated window frames without locks – and is cheaper than upgrading old windows – this advertises the fact that the property is unoccupied to squatters and vandals who might set fire to it.
Many of the reasons why a home is empty are temporary – while you’ve moved out during renovations, while a let property is tenantless, or when an elderly relative has moved into a care home, as well as many other situations. When everything returns to normal and your empty house is reoccupied, just let us know that too.
There are generally some changes in premiums payable and the levels of cover provided as your circumstances vary, but it’s worth remembering that we cover a wide variety of situations including many that mainstream insurers refuse to handle.
And don’t forget that Homeprotect policies run for a full year, whereas with some insurers who offer short-term unoccupied home insurance, you would need to keep renewing if your property remains vacant longer than you’d expected.