There have been fears that some of the refugees fleeing Ukraine could face homelessness in the UK. Image: Mathias Reding / Pexels
The number of Ukraine refugee households who have needed help from English councils to avoid homelessness has surged by 400 in just a month.
New government data, published on Thursday, showed 1,040 households required homelessness prevention or relief from local authorities between February 24 and July 1.
The figures represent a steep rise on the initial figures released in June which showed 660 households had asked for support. The true figure is likely to be much higher with only 242 out of 308 councils reporting how many households they had supported.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of Refugee Council, said:“It is worrying to see another increase in homelessness affecting Ukrainian refugees in the UK. These are desperate families, who have fled war and endured trauma – we should do better to ensure their safety and security here in our country.”
Last month refugees minister Lord Harrington told MPs at the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee that the number of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless was currently “a trickle” but the government was monitoring the situation.
He said: “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.
“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. “
Three-quarters of the 1,040 households that were supported by authorities were households with children with the rest single households.
The majority of those facing homelessness came to the country through the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allowed people to join relatives in England.
In total, 645 households from the scheme faced homelessness with almost half citing a breakdown of the arrangement they had with their relatives. The remaining 335 households were left with nowhere to go after accommodation became unavailable or was not suitable on arrival.
A further 310 households were left at risk of homelessness after arriving through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, which allowed UK households to sponsor arrivals. Of these, 230 households cited the breakdown of their arrangement, 75 said accommodation was unsuitable or unavailable and five rejected a sponsor’s offer.
In 85 cases the reason they needed support was not known.
Councils have placed 480 of the 1,040 households facing homelessness into temporary accommodation while 125 have been given an offer of settled accommodation.
There have been fears in recent months that refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine could face homelessness with 155,600 visas issued since February. Last month Lord Harrington revealed between 5,000 and 7,000 Ukrainians are arriving in the country every week.
Current rules mean councils are not receiving extra funding to deal with extra demand and they are also unable to tap into the 200,000-strong waiting list of sponsors who expressed an interest in taking in refugees.
Refugees who arrive under the Ukraine Family Scheme are currently unable to transfer to the Homes for Ukraine Scheme if their placement does not work out, meaning they are turning to local authorities for support instead.
Levelling Up Committee chair Clive Betts asked Boris Johnson whether refugees would be able to transfer between the two schemes to tackle the problem at Prime Minister’s Questions on July 6. The prime minister promised that the government was working to “simplify and speed up the process”.
Betts told The Big Issue: “The government say they are monitoring the homelessness situation but the latest data is cause for further alarm about the support available to Ukrainian refugees.
“At PMQs last week, the Prime Minister said he would make it possible to allow families to transfer from the family scheme to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The government need to make this happen.
“The government must also redouble efforts to prevent Ukrainian refugees from facing homelessness by taking steps to speed up the sharing of data with local authorities so councils can match refugees to suitable sponsors fast.”
On the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, councils are provided with £10,500 per person to cover costs and have access to a rematching service to find a more suitable sponsor for refugees if needed but that funding is not replicated under the Ukraine Family Scheme.
Solomon told The Big Issue that needs to be addressed to stop the flow of people arriving under the latter scheme from becoming homeless.
The Refugee Council chief executive also said training and specialist support must be provided to help families who have opened their doors to refugees from Ukraine.
“Ukrainian families coming to the UK need a warm welcome, safe housing and benefits, emotional support and connection,” Solomon added.
“We’re concerned that Ukrainians arriving on family visas are running into problems as not all relatives will have the space or the resources to support their family members – which is why there needs to be the same level of funding available to local councils as is provided under the Homes for Ukraine scheme to help address these needs.”
A government spokesperson told The Big Issue more than 95,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began in February.
The spokesperson added: “The overwhelming majority of people are settling in well but in the minority of cases where family or sponsor relationships break down, councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their head.
“Councils also have access to a rematching service to find a new sponsor in cases under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.”