People 'commit crimes' to get priority housing

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Media captionSome offenders may be committing minor crimes in a bid to get 'priority housing' when released from prison, BBC Wales is told.

Some people might be committing minor crimes to get priority housing when they are released from prison, BBC Wales has learned.

In Wales all prisoners are automatically put on a priority list if they are homeless when released, regardless of how long they spent behind bars.

It costs Welsh councils £2m a year to house former prisoners.

Now Housing Minister Carl Sargeant wants to change the law.

In 2001 the Welsh government changed the law to allow homeless ex-prisoners with friends or family in an area to access priority housing in a bid to stop them reoffending.

But the Welsh government said this had not worked and it now wanted to make the system harder to abuse.

Recent figures show there is a larger proportion of former prisoners on priority lists (14%) than people fleeing domestic violence (11%), people with a mental illness or learning disability (6%) or those leaving care or the armed forces (2%).

There is no minimum on how long someone has to spend behind bars so a person could be held on remand for a week, be released and then a council has a duty to house them.

"I think if you look hard enough you'll find anything you wish to look for in terms of loopholes in systems," said Housing Minister Mr Sargeant.

'Offend repeatedly'

"I'm sure there will be people out there who would have committed a small crime to do actually that.

"The fact of the matter is a person in your local community, waiting on the housing list or homeless, at the moment... is in a worse position than somebody who has just left a prison establishment."

Former prisoner Craig Lewis, 23, has spent time in prison for assault, car theft and dangerous driving.

With the help of friends and family he now has a place to live and a full-time job.

But like many former prisoners he is aware of a practice where people in desperate situations commit minor crimes in a bid to jump the housing queue.

"Repeat offenders, they usually offend repeatedly so they can get on the priority list," he said.

"Seasonal offenders through the winter, they'll commit as many offences as they can just so they'll get a roof over their head in prison and then they'll be out in two or three months with a flat or maybe in a house with their families."

Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Elfyn Llwyd, who sits on the justice select committee, said if the practice was happening then it underlined there was a crisis in the public housing sector in Wales.

"I appreciate that a person who has been in prison does need somewhere to live otherwise he or she might reoffend fairly quickly," he said.

"Having said that it does seem to me to be a rather blunt instrument... and I hope the Welsh government and the National Assembly for Wales will review this policy in light of this rather strange finding."

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