The government has been urged to help familes support Ukraine refugees as the cost of living crisis risks driving more people into homelessness. Image: Alisdare Hickson / Flickr
The government has been urged to double payments for families hosting Ukraine refugees to prevent people fleeing the war-torn country facing homelessness this winter.
Refugees minister Lord Harrington said he had asked for the £350 ‘thank you’ payments families receive every month to be doubled to £700 to help with the rising cost of living.
It’s now six months since the conflict in Ukraine began and there are fears the number of Ukrainian refugees in the UK facing homelessness could rise if families who stepped forward through the Homes for Ukraine scheme can no longer afford to provide a home.
“I’ve asked the Treasury for the second six months to increase the thank you payment from £350 to £700,” Lord Harrington told the Daily Telegraph.
“‘People are under pressure. I can’t say with hard evidence, but all my gut tells me that if they are in financial difficulty it [increased payment] will help a lot.”
The Treasury said it was “continuing to monitor and review the support provided under the scheme” and has committed to providing the £350 payment for the next six months.
The government has faced criticism from Labour over its inaction on the cost of living crisis, with inflation forecast to hit 18 per cent incJanuary, according to investment bank Citi. That is driven by the rising energy bills, with analysts Cornwall Insight predicting the energy price cap will rise beyond £4,200 in the same month.
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary, called for energy bills to be frozen to help households continue to provide a home for refugees.
“British households across the country have stepped up to help Ukrainian families fleeing this dreadful conflict, but the Conservatives’ inaction on the cost of living crisis means thousands could be left out of pocket for opening up their home.
“If the government do not act now, they will risk a huge number of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless this winter.”
In total, 177,000 visas have been issued to Ukraine nationals fleeing the country, according to government figures, with 115,200 Ukrainians arriving in the UK.
The vast majority of people – 81,700 – have arrived under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, which saw families initially offer refugees a safe home for six months.
Since then the cost of living has rocketed, driven by rising energy bills and wider inflation, sparking fears that families will no longer be able to support refugees leading to rising homelessness.
More than 1,300 Ukrainian refugees have already contacted councils for support to avoid homelessness in England as of July 29, it was revealed earlier this month.
Meanwhile, a quarter of sponsors from the Homes for Ukraine scheme told the Office for National Statistics they do not want to continue the arrangement beyond six months.
Last week, more than 3,000 people who have hosted 8,500 Ukraine refugees wrote an open letter calling on the government to help them find their own homes.
The letter, from charity Sanctuary Foundation, called on ministers to top up universal credit housing allowance, work with local authorities to act as a guarantor for rental properties and outline a clear rematching and rehosting process to help people find new hosts.
The hosts also echoed calls from Lord Harrington for ‘thank you’ payments to increase to help “households bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis”.
Positive Action in Housing, a refugee homelessness charity, has warned thousands of people could fall into homelessness without intervention.
The charity urged hosts and guests to have a conversation a month before their arrangement is due to end, warning guests may need assistance with presenting themselves as homeless to local authorities or finding alternative accommodation.
“It is unrealistic to assume that Ukrainian refugees will just move on to new accommodation when there are pre-existing housing shortages and homelessness across the country. Rent deposits are also prohibitively expensive,” a spokesperson for the refugee homelessness charity said.
“It remains to be seen whether extending or doubling the £350 payment makes a difference. But if people are already barely tolerating each other in the same living space, it won’t make a difference. It will be the refugees who must leave.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The government cares deeply about helping those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, and that is why we announced two new visa schemes to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the UK.
“To recognise their generosity, sponsors who provide accommodation for refugees through the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme will receive £350 per month per address for up to 12 months if the guest remains in their accommodation.
“We have already acted to make sure these payments are exempt from tax, and continue to monitor and review the support provided under the scheme.”