Housing

A government minister said hundreds of Ukraine refugees becoming homeless is a ‘trickle’

Refugee minister Lord Harrington told MPs 660 households facing homelessness is not “the overwhelming problem” as he insists Ukraine schemes can be the “blueprint” for how the UK deals with future refugee crises.

Ukraine refugees

Refugees minister Lord Harrington said the UK has space to take on more Ukrainian refugees eventhough hundreds have required help for homelessness despite a waiting list of 200,000 UK sponsors. Image: Matti / Unsplash

The minister responsible for refugees has said the hundreds of Ukraine refugee households facing homelessness is not the “overwhelming problem” in the government’s response to the Ukraine crisis.

Official figures released last week revealed 660 households from Ukraine required help from local authorities in England to avoid homelessness between the start of the conflict in February and early June.

Refugees minister Lord Harrington told MPs at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee on Wednesday that the numbers were a “trickle” currently but he was monitoring the situation.

“The homeless thing, my mind is really on it because at the moment it’s a trickle, at the moment it’s being dealt with but it’s my job morally and responsibly to ensure people are dealt with in a proper way,” said Lord Harrington.

Later he added: “It’s not the overwhelming problem at the moment but it could be. In terms of cost I think we have to view it as the same as any other form of homelessness. I’m more concerned about the quality of accommodation of people going into people’s houses.”

Lord Harrington revealed that the Westminster government has now taken in around 80,000 Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion began four months ago with an additional 5,000 to 7,000 people arriving in the country every week.

Recent reports revealed hundreds of households had later fallen into difficulties with homelessness.

Around 455 households who arrived through the Ukraine Family Scheme which allowed Ukrainians to join family members in the UK were owed a homelessness duty by councils. A further 145 needed support after arriving through the Homes for Ukraine scheme that allows UK sponsors to offer refugees a home.

The figures, which came from a government survey, are likely to be much higher after two-thirds of councils did not respond. By comparison, English councils supported 268,560 households facing homelessness in 2020/21.

Many of the households are finding themselves homeless due to the breakdown of relationships with their host or being left with unsuitable accommodation.

Nataliia Golikova, 45, and her two daughters, 14-year-old Dariia and 16-year-old Anstasiia as well as Danylo Kuksa told the Southern Daily Echo they were living in a hotel in Southampton after a visa mix-up.

The family were reportedly due to travel to Scotland, which has different refugee schemes, to live but arrived in Southampton on the advice of friends. The local authority provided them with a hostel but are now staying in a hotel while the council finds more permanent accommodation. 

Nataliia, 45, said: “Back in Ukraine we were a completely normal family but when we arrived at the hostel we were shocked. But we are very grateful for the people who helped us so we want to thank them.”

Transitioning between schemes is currently not possible and that has meant many of the people who arrived on the family scheme but then found themselves homeless have not been able to be matched with a sponsor. That’s despite a waiting list of 200,000 people interested in housing a refugee.

Committee chair Clive Betts described the government’s approach to the situation as “wrong-headed”. 

Betts added: “As a committee, we continue to have concerns about how the Homes for Ukraine scheme is operating in practice, about the funding available to help local councils support refugees, and about the latest alarming data which points to the numbers of Ukrainians who have arrived in the UK and find themselves homeless after their initial place fell through or family members could not host them.”

Lord Harrington said the government is working on allowing refugees to switch between schemes.

”Honestly we really are exploring it. It’s not as simple as it sounds,” he said. “From a financial point of view it’s easy to say the Treasury won’t allow this or the Treasury won’t allow that. But it’s not actually a financial matter, putting people in someone’s homes would actually be cheaper if you view it as a financial matter.”

Lord Harrington added: “But in the long-term, people will have the same issues to deal with that people do in every town and city in the country, in that there is a shortage of private rented accommodation. It takes quite some time to get into social housing.

“And the answer to that is a significant increase in the amount of social housing in this country, not just for refugees but for everybody else.”

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The government has also faced criticism over the difference between the offering to refugees from Ukraine when compared with the response to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Around 12,000 Afghan refugees remain in hotels and Lord Harrington insisted the government was finding it “difficult” to move people into permanent housing. 

The refugees minister said he hoped the Ukraine schemes, which are uncapped and have the “capacity for more people”, could become the “blueprint” for future responses.

“I just believe that this system is working, it will be improved and it will be changed.”

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