‘Concerning increase’ in Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless after UK arrival

Families are struggling to access cash while they wait for benefits, experts say

Millions of refugees have left Ukraine for neighbouring countries following the Russian invasion. AFP

Councils are seeing a “concerning increase” in Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK and becoming homeless due to relationship breakdowns with their sponsors and problems gaining access to accommodation.

Ukrainian families who arrived under the family visa programme are struggling to gain access to cash while they wait for benefits and some are being put in hotels because their relative is unable or unwilling to house them.

And dozens of matches under the separate Homes for Ukraine scheme are understood to have broken down, with local authorities having to put families in emergency accommodation while they wait to find a new sponsor.

Councils are calling for a way to get refugees whose matches have broken down back in the database so that they can be matched quickly with new sponsors.

They are also exploring with the UK government the possibility of matching people who cannot stay with their family sponsor with sponsors registered under the Homes for Ukraine programme.

The chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), councillor James Jamieson, said councils need to be told in advance who is arriving under the family programme and given funding so they can support them.

“Clarity also remains needed on safeguarding and housing checks under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and councils need clearer guidance on the next steps if the accommodation and safeguarding checks find a match that is not suitable and when sponsor arrangements break down or simply end,” he said.

He added that the situation was especially urgent as “lone children are arriving in the UK needing support".

“New arrivals should be able to be rematched with a different sponsor if a sponsorship breaks down to ensure families can swiftly move to other accommodation so they can rebuild their lives in their new communities.”

In a survey published last week, the LGA said 57 councils had been approached by a total of 144 Ukrainian households that have become homeless after arriving.

The British Red Cross said it has had to refer people to homelessness charities, local authorities and housing associations due to problems getting funds or accommodation.

In some cases, it has had to fund short-term accommodation itself as an emergency measure.

Its support line has been contacted by people who are struggling to gain access to funds while they wait for universal credit payments.

The charity says more must be done to tackle these “basic problems”.

In one case, a mother and her five children were put up in a hotel by a council after arriving under the family visa programme.

They are struggling to set up a bank account without proof of address and without a bank account, they cannot complete an application for universal credit.

The family were advised to go to their local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office in person, but this is several kilometres away and would take nearly an hour to reach by foot, as they do not have money for public transport.

Alex Fraser, British Red Cross director of refugee support and restoring family links, said: “We’re increasingly concerned about the access to information about support people are receiving when they arrive.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of calls to our support line from Ukrainians struggling to get cash and housing and British families desperate to help but being prevented by the system.”

Officials are said to be urgently looking into cases of homelessness that have been flagged and working with local leaders and other government departments to better understand the costs councils will incur to support arrivals.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 8:37 PM