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Housing

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugee households have needed help to avoid homelessness

New government figures show hundreds of Ukrainian households who have fled their country are ending up homeless in the UK.

More than 650 Ukrainian refugee households have required support from councils in England to avoid homelessness, according to new government figures.

Data from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, published on Thursday, found 658 Ukrainian households required homelessness prevention or relief from local authorities since Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

But the true figure is likely to be much higher, with only 234 of 308 councils reporting how many households they had supported.

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There have been fears in recent months that Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict could end up on the streets after the government set up the Ukraine Family Scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme to allow Brits to provide them with shelter.

“It is worrying to hear that desperate Ukrainian families who have fled war, endured trauma and heartbreak, arriving here entrusting their safety in our hands have been left to fall into homelessness,” said Enver Solomon, chief executive of Refugee Council.

“Ukrainian families arriving here need a warm welcome, safe housing and benefits, emotional support and connection. We welcomed the thousands of British people that came forward to open their homes, however these hosting relationships were always going to come with risks and responsibilities.

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“That is why it is vital the government ensure that hosts and refugees are provided with the right training and specialist support – including help to find alternative accommodation when necessary to avoid the risk of homelessness.”

Almost three-quarters of the households that received help to avoid homelessness were families with children, alongside 180 single person households.

The majority of Ukrainian households facing homelessness came to the UK through the Family Scheme, which allows Ukrainians with family members here already to join them. So far around 25,400 visas have been issued through the scheme since February.

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But 280 Ukrainian households who came to the UK through the scheme have contacted councils for support after finding there was no place for them to stay in England or the accommodation on offer was not suitable. A further 175 households turned to their local authority after falling out with their host.

Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, told The Big Issue that local authorities do not receive data or additional funding to help them support people who arrive in the UK under the family scheme, nor can they rematch households with a new sponsor if they are facing homelessness.

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.

“As latest figures show, councils are still facing the most significant number of homelessness presentations through the family scheme,” said Cllr Renard.

“Urgent work is needed on how councils can work with government and the community, faith and voluntary sector so those offering their homes can be quickly matched with a family in need.”

Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, has been critical of how the schemes to bring Ukrainian refugees to the UK have been handled. 

The Sheffield South East MP has written to refugees minister Lord Harrington several times in recent months to cite his “significant concerns” over the potential for rising homelessness.

Betts told The Big Issue: “There continues to be concerns about how the Homes for Ukraine scheme is operating and dreadful stories of Ukrainians who having arrived in the UK are now finding themselves homeless after their initial place fell through or family members could not host them.

“This data highlights again the need for Government to do more to ensure people do not suffer this plight and that the fundamental issues are tackled, such as improving data sharing with local authorities so they can match refugees to suitable sponsors as quickly as possible.”

The Homes for Ukraine Scheme, which allows Ukrainian households to come to the UK after finding a suitable sponsor, has seen 51,800 people arrive in the UK since the conflict began.

But 90 households who arrived in England through the scheme sought support after their arrangement with their host broke down while 55 households faced homelessness due to unavailable or unsuitable accommodation.

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Many of the councils that reported the highest number of households requiring support with homelessness were located in London, with Hillingdon leading the way with 27 cases. Manchester dealt with the most cases outside London, supporting 17 households.

In total, 97 councils said they had not been required to help any Ukrainian households to prevent or relieve homelessness, but many did not respond to provide a figure, including Birmingham.

A government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “More than 77,200 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK since Putin’s invasion and all arrivals have access to benefits and public services, as well as the right to work or study, from the day they arrive.

“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.” 

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