Hundreds of Ukrainian families have been left homeless in England after arriving on visas designed to secure them a place to live, reports The Guardian.
Since the end of February, at least 480 Ukrainian families with children and 180 single adults have applied to councils for help with homelessness. Despite the government insisting that the Homes for Ukraine and family visa schemes would ensure that refugees had housing, both are leaving people struggling when arrangements break down. The data exposes the cracks appearing in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with 145 placements having ended in homelessness by 3 June. Of these, 90 ended because the arrangement broke down and a further 55 never got off the ground properly because the accommodation was unavailable or unsuitable on arrival.
Lauren Scott, executive director of Refugees at Home, said: “We are frustrated and saddened but not surprised to see placements start to break down. Expecting vulnerable, traumatised refugees to rely on the goodwill of strangers they have met on Facebook was always a risk. We urgently need a joined-up national fallback plan to help families whose placements go wrong. Across the country there is no consistent approach to rematching guests with new hosts, no standard way for Ukrainians to change their visa sponsors, and no single mechanism for moving funding from one host to another.”
Many local authorities are treating Ukrainian families as homeless rather than attempting to rematch them with new hosts, leaving them in hostels and hotels, just as happened with Afghan refugees. Of the 145 failed Homes for Ukraine placements, only 20 were rematched with a new host. Scott said: “It is a nightmare situation – the very one that we had hoped to avoid.”
Anna, 37, fled Kyiv with her husband and their three-year-old son when war broke out. They came to Britain at the end of March after matching with a family of four who lived in a large house in Northampton. After initially being welcoming, their hosts became less enthusiastic within a few weeks. “We didn’t understand what was happening because they changed their mood very quickly,” Anna said. Anna and her family were moved into an annexe. The host said he wanted a key to it and they agreed as long as he warned them before going in, but shortly afterwards he called the council to say he wanted to terminate his sponsorship.
“They didn’t explain anything to us,” Anna said. “They were not ready to share their house. They tried to get rid of us as soon as possible.” Her family were put up in a Travelodge for several days by the council, sharing one room with no cooking facilities. They had no idea where to go. “We were desperate and felt we didn’t have any other options than to go back to Ukraine,” Anna said.
Finally, after trawling the internet, they found Refugees at Home, who helped place them with another family.
They are still scarred from the experience. “We lost our home in Ukraine, and when we came here we thought that we were safe, but actually we weren’t and we lost our home a second time.”
The family visa scheme, which has been running the longest, accounted for 455 homeless applications. In many cases, families desperate to get their relatives out of Ukraine applied for visas but never had room for them to stay. The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon, said: “It is worrying to see that desperate Ukrainian families who have fled war, endured trauma and heartbreak, arriving here, entrusting their safety in our hands, to have been left to fall into homelessness. Ukrainian families arriving here need a warm welcome, safe housing and benefits, emotional support, and connection. 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 them and local councils as is provided under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.”
Lisa Nandy MP, shadow levelling up and housing secretary, said: “It is utterly shameful that families that have fled Putin’s brutal war have found themselves homeless here in the UK. The British people showed amazing generosity in stepping up in their thousands to provide the care and sanctuary that these people – many of them families with young children – needed and deserved in such awful circumstances.”
She added: “But the government has failed miserably to play its part. Ministers were warned about the risk of refugees becoming homeless on the day they launched the sponsorship scheme, but they were more interested in grandstanding in television studios than doing their jobs to protect vulnerable people. The government must urgently set out a plan to support councils to find safe homes for these families.”
Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “Currently, councils receive no data on, or funding for, people who are coming under the family visa scheme. Some of those families present as homeless once they have arrived, but we are asking that they should be able to be rematched with a sponsor under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 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.”
A government spokesperson said: “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.”