Ukrainian refugees placed with unvetted hosts as councils still waiting for funding

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Ukrainian refugees have been placed with unvetted hosts and in unsuitable homes because the government has yet to give councils any funding for vital safety checks.

Hosting arrangements under the Homes for Ukraine route are already breaking down, as it emerged the required DBS background checks are not always being done before refugees arrive in the UK.

Families who have fled the war have been forced to pay for hotel rooms or register as homeless after discovering their sponsor’s housing is unsuitable, with reports of rodent infestations, broken boilers and hosts with drug addictions.

One Ukrainian woman arrived at her London host’s house to discover she had only a 5 sq m bedroom to share with her six-year-old son, the heating was broken and there were mice running around. The host also refused to give her a key to the property.

The home was later inspected by the local council and deemed to be unsuitable, and they were moved into temporary accommodation.

The Independent‘s Refugees Welcome campaign is calling for the government to go further and faster to help Ukrainians fleeing their country.

Government data shows 19,500 of the 80,900 people who have applied have so far arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which opened on 18 March and enables refugees to “match” with UK residents willing to house them.

A further 17,900 of the 44,200 refugees who have applied under the Ukraine family scheme have arrived, since the initiative allowing them to join UK-based relatives was launched on 4 March.

The Home Office conducts checks against the police national computer before granting a Homes for Ukraine visa, but DBS checks and property inspections are carried out later by local authorities.

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Councils are supposed to receive £10,500 per refugee to assist with those checks – at least one of which should be in person and happen before refugees arrive.

Refugees are arriving in Britain to discover that their housing is unsuitable, with reports of rodent infestations, broken boilers and hosts with drug addictions

(PA Wire)

But the government’s own guidance states the payments will not be made until the end of June, which means they often aren’t being done until after refugees arrive.

The Independent understands some local authorities have subsequently had to redeploy staff from family and children’s social services to carry out the checks.

Shadow leveling up minister Lisa Nandy said it was “shameful” the government had “wasted so much generosity and let down the people of Ukraine by continually failing to get a grip and do its job”.

“The government has failed to provide the information and support that people on the front line need to make this scheme work,” she said.

“The result is chaos, unacceptable delays and potentially homelessness for desperate people who have already fled a terrible war.”

Hannah Clare, deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said because the council was yet to receive its funding and it was not provided with information on where a host lives and when the refugee will arrive, checks were taking place “a matter of weeks rather than days” after refugees get here.

There have been more than 121,000 applications made for visas by Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war

(PA Wire)

“It’s not possible for us to complete the property checks before they arrive, so it is happening after, which isn’t ideal,” she said.

“We’ve had a case where that relationship’s broken down before we could do that check, showing just how important it is. It really doesn’t protect the refugees, or the hosts either. It’s a danger all round.”

In one case, Natalie, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, arrived in the UK at the start of April with her son, aged six, after matching with a female host through social media.

But she was shocked at the living conditions when she arrived at the south London home.

“It was really dirty. We were shown the bedroom we would share and it was about five square meters. The window was very narrow – you couldn’t open it to get fresh air,” she told The Independent.

“The boiler wasn’t working, so after the flight we couldn’t shower. She gave us double blankets, but it was so cold. I noticed the house was full of mice. They were running around, but what could we do? I was in another country. It was 10 or 11pm.”

Sutton Council carried out a property check the next day and Natalie was told the home was unsuitable and she would be moved into emergency accommodation within a few days.

In the meantime, Natalie faced more challenges. She [the host] wouldn’t give me a key. One day we went out and when we came back in the evening she was out. She wasn’t replying to my messages. We were so cold. It was a Sunday so there was no cafe or anything around.”

The pair have since been moved to temporary accommodation where they feel more settled. “We just wanted to live a normal life, but we came from war to that trouble,” she said.

Sutton Council said visas were issued before checks are completed and because it does not receive information on when refugees are due to arrive, it was difficult for it to prioritize checks for imminent arrivals.

The Local Government Association said councils across the country had reported issues with the information they get from the government, saying it is arriving too slowly, there is data missing, host contact details are not always correct and it does not provide refugees’ arrival dates.

Advocates for Ukrainian refugees say it is taking too long for visas to be processed, and even with the delays checks are not being carried out before people arrive

(PA Wire)

Svitlana Opanasenko, a volunteer at Ukraine Social Club, said one young Ukrainian man arrived at a host property to find someone in the family was taking drugs.

“He said he couldn’t stay there. He booked a hotel for three nights, but he didn’t have money to stay longer. He was looking for a family to stay with him, and eventually, luckily, he found one, ”she said.

“I have reported it to the local council and it turns out they didn’t check the sponsor, and then they realized it was not suitable.”

Ms Opanasenko also described cases where hosts have told refugees they need to do chores in the home to “repay the service”.

She asked: “Why is there no database for people to match with hosts who have already been checked?”

A government spokesperson said it would seek to find a further sponsor if a sponsor/guest relationship broke down, and if a suitable one could not be found, refugees would be entitled to housing support.

“We are giving councils £10,500 per person to provide wrap-around support for Ukrainians on the scheme. They must make at least one in-person visit to a sponsor’s property and they have a duty to make sure the guest is safe and well once they’ve arrivedm” the spokesperson said.

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www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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