“I have no idea where to even start with saving and budgeting. I don’t even have a bank account.”
When lads leave custody, often to live independently for the first time, it is not just a matter of getting to grips with the practical tasks of everyday life like cooking and cleaning and staying out of trouble. Knowing how to access benefits, manage money and having a realistic idea of what things ‘on the out’ cost, can also be quite a challenge.
A large percentage of young people leaving custody are reliant on benefits so one of the regular questions that In2Out mentors get asked by participants approaching release is, ‘How do I claim benefits?’
Well, firstly, the young person needs a bank account, and to open a bank account they need ID documents, including their National Insurance number, which many young people leaving custody don’t have. So, their In2Out mentor supports them in applying for ID documents such as a driver’s licence, birth certificate and/or passport.
A claim needs to be made on the day a young person is released from custody and with Job Centres shut due to COVID, all claims are currently made over the phone or online. Once a claim is made it can take up to five weeks to receive the first payment, which is a very long time for anyone, let alone a young person coming out of prison with very little. In2Out mentors support our participants in making a request for an advanced payment which the young person has to pay back little-by-little throughout the year.
The process can be daunting if you have no experience and little understanding of what is required. The temptation to go back to getting money through crime, a route that is often more familiar, is very real.
“I’m saying ‘no’ to other ways of getting money as I don’t want to go down that route but it’s really hard when everything is so slow.”
Martin was released abruptly from custody in the middle of the national lockdown without any of the usual pre-release meetings taking place, meaning there had been no time to make arrangements for him. Suddenly, his life looked very different.
Despite returning to an area outside of the In2Out geographical cover, his mentor stayed in touch with him with regular phone calls. With his support Martin has been able to apply for a provisional driving licence, register with a doctor and open a bank account.
Part of the requirements of his release, is that he attends weekly statutory meetings including meeting with his Probation officer. Martin decided to travel to and from these meetings by taxi, which takes a significant amount out of his benefits leaving him with a reduced amount for the rest of his living costs. Desperate to meet the requirements of his release, Martin says: “I’d prefer to pay the money than go back to prison.”
Travelling by taxi might seem like an extravagant choice or even laziness, but there can be many reasons why a lad would make such a choice. Maybe he doesn’t feel safe walking on the streets, or he isn’t confident about using public transport, or the bus route takes him through a part of town where he would be at risk of getting into trouble.
After a number of months back in the community, Martin says: “It’s hard to be legit – people don’t see what happens. COVID has affected me really bad. I’m still chasing things that should have happened when I was released.” Despite the challenges, Martin is staying ‘on track’ saying, “I’m still clean and not offending.”
When Aiden was released from custody, he and his girlfriend looked for a flat to rent. The difficulty for them was not having the deposit to put down. Some lads apply for a private rental a few years after their release from custody, giving themselves time to save up the deposit, but with a baby on the way Aiden had to sort this quickly. His In2Out mentor contacted a charity helping homeless young people which, after an assessment, provided the deposit under an arrangement whereby Aiden paid back a small amount each month.
As Aiden had secured work, he was initially able to cover the rent and this credit agreement, but since Christmas this has dried up - and the pressure is now on to keep up with payments. He is looking for more work, but even with housing benefit it is a real stress to make up the shortfall. In2Out has helped with topping up the electricity and providing some food.
When setting up a new home, there are charities that can help out in providing furniture and white goods such as a washing machine and dryer – however, the reality of what it costs to run these appliances often isn’t taken into consideration. With a lifestyle of living in the immediate, the thought of how to pay the utility bills is left until they arrive on the doormat.
Sometimes more economical options are not open to lads, for example their accommodation can have electric heating, often on a meter that needs regular topping up with credit, which tends to be more expensive, and often they don’t understand money-saving arrangements like paying by monthly Direct Debits which can help spread the cost even if that is an option.
Spending money and making financial choices can often be driven by much deeper issues. For some lads who have little emotional validation in their lives, greater importance is given to possessions or even lifestyle so, despite the cost, the latest iPhone or Play Station becomes very important. And there are also many credit and loan opportunities which can seem really attractive until you calculate the real costs. Like one In2Out participant said: “I feel like it is so easy to end up in debt. It’s like people want you to be in debt. Everyone offers you stuff on tick and then it just builds up and builds up and before you know it, you’re buried in it!”
In2Out mentors work with participants, explaining about budgeting and encouraging them to prioritise expenses. A major aspect is to help with longer term planning and consequential thinking so that money is put aside for rent and utility bills preventing eviction and power outages. With the help of In2Out mentors, participants are better equipped to pursue a legitimate way of meeting their financial needs and also to set financial goals, helping them envisage a different future, as in Rob’s case who said: “When you write it all down and break it up, covering the cost of setting up my own place doesn’t seem so bad.”