Housing

'Significant concerns' over Ukraine refugees becoming homeless in UK

There are fears local authorities may struggle to deal with Ukrainian refugees who present as homeless without extra government funding, MPs have warned.

Ukraine

Some Ukrainians who have come to the UK as refugees are presenting to councils as homeless. Image: Karolynne Hubert / Unsplash

There are “significant concerns” that stretched local authority services will not be able to cope with an influx of refugees from Ukraine presenting to councils as homeless, MPs have warned.

Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, made the admission in a letter to refugees minister Lord Harrington, following reports that people from Ukraine who have arrived in the UK are now ending up without a home.

Betts also said that refugees should be able to switch between support schemes after arriving in the UK if there are residents nearby willing to accommodate them rather than calling on councils for support.

“Stories of Ukrainian families arriving in the UK, living in single rooms and being forced to declare themselves homeless after fleeing war are adding to concerns that Ukrainian refugees are not getting the support they need,” said Betts.

“Local authorities will see increasing demands for their services and yet are being told by government there is no funding to cover this under the Ukraine Family Scheme. The government needs to step up and put this right.”

Ukrainians fleeing the conflict in their home country have been able to come to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme if they have a family member settled in the UK or if they have a sponsor through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

The latter, which has seen refugees connect with willing sponsors over social media, has faced criticism in recent days for leaving people open to abuse despite the promise of background checks.

There have also been reports that refugees who were accepted through the scheme have since presented as homeless to councils after relations broke down with hosts or if their family in the UK are unable to house them.

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A survey published by the Local Government Association on April 1 found 144 households of Ukraine new arrivals had asked English councils for support with homelessness in the five weeks after Russia’s invasion of the country began on February 24.

The figure included 44 approaches from households under the Ukraine Family Scheme and 36 approaches under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

This week the first Ukrainian family reported as homeless in East Lothian, according to local reports. Gayle Findlay, the policy manager of Scottish local government representatives Cosla, told MSPs last month the only route for people whose placements break down is to “present as homeless within their local authority area that they may be in”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson told the Liaison Committee that he would examine the case for extra funding to help local authorities support Ukrainian refugees facing homelessness on March 30.

“There are local authorities with an existing Ukrainian community which will in all likelihood receive a large number of refugees through the Ukraine Family Scheme,” said Betts. “The local authorities will see increased demand for their services, but are being told there is no funding available to cover this.

“Calls from my committee and from local government for funding for local authorities for the family scheme have thus far been ignored.”

A government spokesperson said: “These schemes are designed to ensure that people who are coming to the UK fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine are provided with accommodation by their family or sponsor.”

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