Better access to post is key to ending homelessness catch-22
Citizens Advice has revealed an unnecessary catch-22 that is stopping homeless people accessing public services because they don’t have a fixed postal address.
Failure to receive important correspondence from public services including banks, healthcare, Jobcentres, courts and housing services can have serious consequences. For example, homeless people could have their benefits sanctioned, drop down waiting lists and even miss out on offers of housing.
Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer watchdog for postal services. It wants Royal Mail and Post Office to take the initiative to allow an estimated 320,000 homeless people in Britain to access postal services.
New Citizens Advice research found 8 in 10 of their advisers said homeless people always or frequently experienced difficulty accessing benefits because they don’t have a fixed address. Opening a bank account was also a challenge, according to 7 in 10 advisers.
The majority (54%) of MPs surveyed by Citizens Advice said people in their constituency have struggled to access essential services because they don’t have a fixed address.
Citizens Advice is recommending two potential solutions, which build on existing systems:
- A free PO box-type system should be established for homeless people. This would give them an address to put on applications and allow them to pick up their post from one of Royal Mail’s 1,350 delivery offices.
- An adjusted form of Poste Restante - a system that allows you to have your post sent to and collected from one of the country’s 11,500 post office branches - for homeless people. At the moment, the Post Office requires proof of address to sign up, but Citizens Advice is calling for the ID requirements to be relaxed for homeless people.
The homeless people and support workers Citizens Advice spoke to were supportive of the recommendations. In addition, 7 in 10 MPs agreed with at least one of the proposals (72% with a free PO Box service, and 75% with an adjusted form of Poste Restante.)
Citizens Advice is also calling on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the lead department for postal policy, to carry out a review of homeless people’s access to post and how it can be improved.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“With Christmas almost upon us, many people will be eagerly awaiting post and presents from loved ones. However, if you’re homeless receiving your post can mean much more - it can be the difference between sleeping rough or receiving long-awaited accommodation.
“Our recommendations provide a simple solution to this unnecessary and damaging cycle, and homeless people, their support staff, and 4 in 5 MPs agree addressing it is important. We’d like to see Royal Mail and Post Office trial our recommendations and work with them to end this catch-22 and help homeless people get back on their feet.”
Notes to editors
- Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
- Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
- The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
- Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
- For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
- We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
- Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.