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‘Concerning increase’ in Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless after UK arrival

A ‘refugees welcome’ banner attached to a bicycle by a small flotilla of boats leaving Bristol harbour in support of Ukrainian refugees (Ben Birchall/PA)
A ‘refugees welcome’ banner attached to a bicycle by a small flotilla of boats leaving Bristol harbour in support of Ukrainian refugees (Ben Birchall/PA)

Councils are seeing a “concerning increase” in Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK and becoming homeless due to relationship breakdowns with their sponsors and problems accessing accommodation.

Ukrainian families who arrived under the family visa scheme are struggling to access cash while they wait for benefits, and some are being put in hotels because their relative is unable or unwilling to house them.

And dozens of matches under the separate Homes for Ukraine scheme are understood to have broken down, with local authorities having to put families in emergency accommodation while they wait to find a new sponsor.

Councils are calling for a way to get refugees whose matches have broken down back on the database so that they can be matched quickly with sponsors in the local area who have homes ready and waiting.

They are also exploring with the Government the possibility of matching people who cannot stay with their family sponsor with sponsors registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), councillor James Jamieson, said councils need to be told in advance who is arriving under the family scheme and given funding so they can support them.

He said: “Clarity also remains needed on safeguarding and housing checks under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and councils need clearer guidance on the next steps if the accommodation and safeguarding checks find a match that is not suitable and when sponsor arrangements break down or simply end.

“Councils are already seeing a concerning increase in homelessness presentations from Ukraine arrivals – including those who have arrived via the family scheme and where the families’ accommodation is not suitable or the relationship has broken down shortly after arrival – and lone children arriving in the UK needing support.

“New arrivals should be able to be rematched with a different sponsor if a sponsorship breaks down to ensure families can swiftly move to other accommodation so they can rebuild their lives in their new communities.”

Ukraine visa schemes in the UK
(PA Graphics)

In a survey published last week, the LGA said 57 councils have been approached by a total of 144 Ukrainian households who have become homeless after arriving under both schemes.

The British Red Cross said it has had to refer people to homelessness charities, local authorities and housing associations due to problems getting funds or accommodation.

In some cases it has had to fund short-term accommodation itself as an emergency measure.

Its support line has been contacted by people who are struggling to access cash while they wait for universal credit payments.

The charity says more must be done to tackle these “basic problems”.

In one case, a mother and her five children were put up in a hotel by a council after arriving under the family visa scheme.

They are struggling to set up a bank account without proof of address, and without a bank account they cannot complete an application for universal credit.

They were advised to go to their local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office in person, but this is at least three miles away and would take nearly an hour to reach by foot as they do not have money for public transport.

When they arrived, the DWP suggested the younger children wait outside during the appointment, but the charity said staff supporting the family were able to stop this from happening.

Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director of refugee support and restoring family links, said: “We’re increasingly concerned about the access to information about support people are receiving when they arrive.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of calls to our support line from Ukrainians struggling to get cash and housing, and British families desperate to help but being prevented by the system.”

The PA news agency asked the Government if it is aware of the total number of Ukrainian refugees currently in emergency accommodation, but it did not provide a figure.

It also did not respond to requests for information about what it is doing to ensure refugees whose matches have broken down can be rematched rapidly so they do not spend weeks in hotels.

Officials are said to be urgently looking into cases of homelessness that have been flagged, and working with local leaders and other Government departments to better understand the costs councils will incur to support arrivals.

A Government spokeswoman said: “Everyone coming to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine and Ukraine Family Scheme will have access to healthcare, education, benefits and job support on the same footing as UK nationals.

“These schemes are designed to ensure people who are coming to the UK fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine are provided with accommodation by their family or sponsor.

“Under both schemes councils have a duty to provide support, including where someone is left without accommodation.”

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