PO boxes for homeless people will help fight financial exclusion

Citizens Advice said more can be done to stop a lack of fixed address meaning benefit sanctions, missed housing offers and no bank account

Free PO boxes should be established to help homeless people escape a “catch-22” blocking them from public services, according to Citizens Advice.

A lack of a fixed postal address makes opening a bank account and receiving vital correspondence from housing services, job centres and health care providers extremely difficult – and can result in sanctioned benefits and lost housing offers.

It can also remove a homeless person’s chance to register for a library card or a mobile phone contract, cutting them off from the internet and thus job opportunities.

The charity and consumer watchdog wants Royal Mail and Post Office to help 320,000 people in Britain gain access to the post network in a bid to tackle the financial exclusion keeping them locked in homelessness.

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The PO box-type system, which could be set up across the UK’s 1,350 delivery offices, would mean homeless people had an address to put on applications and from which to pick up their post.

It was also suggested that an adjusted form of Poste Restante, which means having post sent to and collected from one of 11,500 post office branches across the country, is introduced with relaxed ID requirements for homeless people.

It can be the difference between sleeping rough or receiving long-awaited accommodation

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.”

The report revealed that 80 per cent of Citizens Advice advisers said homeless people frequently experienced difficulty accessing benefits because they had nowhere to receive post, whether they were forced to sleep rough or were in temporary housing.

It was also found that 54 per cent of MPs surveyed know of constituents who have struggled to access essential services because of this. More than 70 per cent of MPs supported at least one of the proposals.

A Royal Mail spokesperson commented: “We are very open to the idea of providing PO boxes for homeless people. In fact, this is something we have looked at before and which we proactively discussed with Citizens Advice. We wish to play our part. The key point would be to establish whether a PO box would be accepted as a legitimate form of authentication and verification by a range of organisations.

“As part of the work we carried out on this project, we have already asked Citizens Advice to confirm whether PO boxes, or other possible solutions, would be accepted as a legitimate form of verification for such services.”

Earlier this year, designer Chris Hildrey created ProxyAddress, a project which uses existing records of empty properties to provide homeless people with stable addresses to use for bureaucratic purposes. They are given the address, not the property, and Royal Mail redirection services are used to ensure the person’s post is not delivered to an inaccessible building. There are an estimated 500,000 empty homes in the UK.

Citizens Advice wants the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to conduct a formal review of how homeless people’s access to post could be improved.

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