Newly-arrived Ukrainian refugees are registering as homeless in the UK, leaving local councils to “pick up the pieces” and arrange emergency housing for them with no additional funding from central government.
Families who have fled the Russian invasion and been granted visas on the Ukraine family scheme are arriving in Britain without anywhere to stay because their UK-based relatives do not have space in their homes to house them, local authorities and charities have warned.
The Ukraine family scheme, opened by the Home Office on 4 March, allows Ukrainian refugees who have relatives in the UK to join them. No funding is provided to councils under the scheme because the presumption is that refugees will stay with their relatives.
However, it has emerged that in some cases UK-based family members do not have space to accommodate their relatives, and that councils and charities are having to “scramble” to find them alternative housing.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, has said local authorities are seeing Ukrainian refugees presenting as homeless, and is calling on ministers to provide funding to local government to support these people.
The Independent is raising money for the people of Ukraine – if you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.
Under a separate visa scheme, Homes for Ukraine, which was launched by the government on 18 March and allows Ukrainians without family members in the UK to be hosted by members of the British public, councils are given £10,500 per refugee in the first year.
An LGA spokesperson told The Independent: “Councils would like the same arrangements to be in place for the family visa route as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. This includes advance notice of new arrivals and the funding to support them when they are here.
“We are also discussing with the government whether it would be possible to match new arrivals with sponsors registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they cannot stay with their family.”
The Department for Leveling Up has said people may not apply for a visa under Homes for Ukraine scheme from within the UK.
Oleksandr Polishchuk, a volunteer at charity Support Ukraine, which is based in West London, said he had come across dozens of Ukrainians who have arrived in recent weeks and did not have accommodation, and have been placed in emergency accommodation by local councils.
He described one case of a couple aged over 60 with the 96-year-old mother of one of them, who came to join their daughter under the family scheme but who could not fit into her studio flat.
“She was already living theirs with her two young children. They went there at first but it was unsustainable and unbearable. They picked up their bags and arrived at Victoria coach station and came to us. They had nowhere to stay. They are now being married by the council,” he said.
“We try to help and direct people as much as we can. There is an immediate need. We need to place them overnight somewhere. That has been a struggle, but we are managing somehow.
“The government issued a policy, but local councils are not prepared. The system is not in place. We are working with them closely and trying to figure out solutions.”
Mr Polishchuk added: “No one expected the scheme to be working properly immediately after the war started, but people are arriving here now. They often don’t know English. They don’t understand what is happening or what to expect.
“It is chaotic. Councils want to provide support, but they are so unprepared which makes it difficult. They are scrambling to get things together. They’ve been left to pick up the pieces.”
A spokesperson for London Councils, which represents London boroughs, said: “As people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have started to arrive in London, boroughs are seeing numbers of people presenting as homeless and are providing appropriate accommodation and support.
“We are working with government to discuss how best to care for and support arrivals while balancing existing pressures.”
Charlie Richards, a volunteer with the Ukrainian Center in Reading, said some Ukraine family visa holders who cannot stay with their relatives had started to move in with people informally offering to host, raising safeguarding concerns.
“My huge concern is that these informal hosts are not flagged to the council. Those people aren’t checked for safeguarding. The council is trying to do the right thing, but all the issues are with the Department for Leveling Up and the Home Office.”
A government spokesperson said: “The Ukraine family scheme is helping thousands of people fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine be reunited with family in the UK.
“Our expectation is people arriving through the family scheme will be initially supported by their loved ones, so they can find work and integrate into the UK. In the exceptional case someone is left without support from their families, Ukrainians will be able to access local council support.”
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.