Housing

Why are Ukrainians finding themselves homeless in the UK?

A year on from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainian refugees are finding themselves homeless in the UK. Here’s why

Ukrainians facing homelessness after fleeing Ukraine war

Thousands of Ukrainians have need help to avoid homelessness in the UK. Image: Mathias Reding / Pexels

The war in Ukraine has made more than eight million people homeless in the last year and thousands of refugees have made the journey to the UK in search of a safe home.

In response to the incoming humanitarian crisis, the Westminster government set up visa schemes to create a legal route for Ukrainian refugees to reach the UK.

Thousands of people came forward to act as hosts for refugees through the Homes for Ukraine scheme and 114,400 Ukrainians headed to Britain through the scheme to be supported for an initial six months.

Some Ukrainian households saw their placements breakdown, others stayed with hosts beyond the six months while others parted ways after six months. More than 2,500 households have presented as homeless in England after arriving through the scheme.

Part of the problem is down to funding. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness said the funding available for hosts under the Homes for Ukraine scheme lacks flexibility, with lodging arrangements excluded from the scheme, and payments fixed regardless of the size of the family sponsored.

It’s the other scheme the government set up to support Ukrainian refugees that has experts worried. The family scheme allowed Ukrainians with family members in the UK to flee with almost 47,000 people making the move in the last year.

While hosts have been receiving £500 a month ‘thank you’ payments for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the same is not true for people who desperately used the family scheme to get their loved ones out of danger when the war began. 

“This financial burden is compounded by frequent initial inability of their guests to work or claim benefits – until you receive your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), often delayed for many weeks or even months, you aren’t allowed to do either,” said Chris Keppie, the communications manager at Settled, a charity supporting EU citizens living in the UK. 

“We’ve seen many cases of financial and/or spatial pressures leading to breakdown of the hosting offer, sadly leading to homelessness – a terrible situation for people already often experiencing grief and trauma.” 

For much of the last year, it looked like the two schemes would be merged, allowing people who report to councils after encountering problems with the family scheme to be reconnected with a host from the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 

That was the view of former refugees minister Lord Harrington, but he left his role on the eve of Liz Truss’s appointment as prime minister and has not been replaced. 

Homelessness minister Felicity Buchan told the Levelling Up Committee last month that the government had U-turned on the idea of merging the schemes and instead they would be leaving local authorities to deal with Ukrainians who present as homeless

A one-off pot of £150 million in government money has been promised to help councils, who are already braced for surging homelessness in the cost-of-living crisis, while a wider £500m fund will be reserved for refugees fleeing conflicts to find up to 4,000 homes by 2024. 

In addition, social enterprise Beam is working with 50 councils to help them house people who are facing homelessness. 

Ukrainian Anna Bozhenko was homeless in the UK after fleeing Ukraine
Beam helped Anna Bozhenko and her son after they became homeless in London. Image: Emily Girvan for Beam

Seb Barker, Beam co-founder, said: “I think councils are going through a very difficult time because they have a large number of different groups to support now more than ever. They do get funding to help Ukrainians but I think part of it is bandwidth within the council itself. 

“Council housing teams don’t just have new applications increasing from refugees, they are coming from every other group as well so one way we are finding that Beam is helpful is providing that extra bit of support the council needs. It’s providing that extra bit of bandwidth in this very difficult time.” 

But now is the time to look forward, according to Adis Sehic, policy and research officer at the Work Rights Centre. Sehic quizzed 12 London councils for a recent report into Ukrainian homelessness and he says now is the time for the government to create a national integration and resettlement strategy. 

That strategy will mean “different groups of people are not treated differently”, citing the different approaches taken in response to the crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan, for example. 

But the key to solving homelessness among Ukrainians, just as it is for wider homelessness, is more affordable housing. “Local councils, in particular, have tried to have conversations about moving to other parts of the country or moving to other areas because of affordability,” said Sehic.

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“Those conversations have been really difficult. Because when Ukrainians arrive, they’re provided with a welcome pack and they give them a very brief overview of their ability to rent in the UK. But it doesn’t set out that the UK has a tremendous deficit in housing generally, not least of social housing and more affordable options, particularly for refugee groups. 

“Then you’re kind of dealing with six months, 12 months down the line, a choice between being stuck in limbo, effectively, or potentially having to go through the trauma of moving again, and it’s not good for anyone.” 

If you are Ukrainian and threatened with homelessness, you can see Settled’s helpful information leaflets on what to do in English or Ukrainian or contact them on ukraineadvice@settled.org.uk. Visit settled.org.uk

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