Hundreds of Ukrainians now homeless in England

Charities fear problem will get worse as hosting arrangements come to an end

A sign advertising the Ukrainian Refugee Boutique outside the White Eagle donation centre as the charity prepares to transport a shipment of Shelterbags to Ukraine. Getty Images
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Hundreds of Ukrainians who have arrived in England since their country was invaded by Russia have been left homeless or are threatened with homelessness, figures show.

Families allowed to come to the country either to join relatives or as part of the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme have instead found accommodation unavailable or had arrangements to house them break down.

A total of 655 Ukrainian households were owed a statutory homelessness duty by local authorities in England in the period to June 3, according to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

This means they had been assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Some 180 were single households, while 480 were households with dependant children.

The figures do not reflect the scale of the problem across England because more than a quarter (26 per cent) of local authorities did not respond to the survey, which was not compulsory.

More than 2.5 million of the seven million-plus Ukrainians who fled across Europe have returned to their country since Russia invaded.

Separately, charities trying to help those fleeing are concerned after numbers of donations dropped.

The White Eagle charity has been donating Shelterbags to groups helping refugees who may be homeless across the continent.

Originally established in the Netherlands in 2014, Sheltersuit has been making all-in-one weatherproof Sheltersuits and Shelterbags for homeless people in the Netherlands, South Africa, the US and the UK.

Ian Sutherland McCook, Managing Director at Sheltersuit UK, discusses the design of the Shelterbag before a batch of thirty are taken to Ukraine by the White Eagle charity this month. Getty Images

UK, a Government representative 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.”

Lauren Scott, executive director of refugees at Home, a UK charity which connects potential hosts with refugees in need of somewhere to stay, 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.

“Unfortunately, we believe that this situation may get worse as the hosting honeymoon phase ends. ”

She called for a national fallback plan to help families whose placements go wrong as there is no standard way for Ukrainians to change their visa sponsors, and no single mechanism for moving funding from one host to another.

Kate Brown, chief executive of Reset Communities and Refugees, said: “Supporting refugees takes more than just offering a home. Preparation is key. Due to the pace of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, some of the important groundwork to ensure both the sponsor and the refugee group is ready unfortunately — and understandably — hasn't happened.

“Reset is getting requests daily from Ukrainians who wish to move from their sponsor, citing many reasons including incompatibility, isolation or their sponsor charging them to stay with them. We have also been contacted by sponsors who have not been matched through our service asking for help to rematch the person they sponsor, this can be because of a change to their circumstance, differing expectations of what sponsorship means or their guest wishing to be elsewhere in the UK. The tensions can lead to Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, two schemes have been established to allow refugees to travel to the UK.

The Homes For Ukraine sponsorship scheme allows Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK if they have a named sponsor.

Figures published on Thursday show that 90 households in England admitted through this scheme have been assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness because the arrangement for their accommodation has “broken down”, along with a further 55 households whose accommodation was “not available or suitable on arrival”.

Under the separate Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows applicants to join family members or extend their stay in the UK, 175 households in England have been assessed as homeless because arrangements have broken down, along with 280 whose accommodation was unavailable or unsuitable.

There were 55 households where the reason for being assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness was classed as “other” or “not known”.

Of the total 655 households owed a statutory homelessness duty, just over half (345) were recorded as being in temporary accommodation when the figures were compiled.

This includes bed and breakfast hotels, hostels, housing association properties and other types of accommodation used by local authorities to fulfil statutory responsibilities towards the homeless.

The figures also show that 20 households have avoided being classed as homeless because they have been rematched with other hosts.

Updated: June 17, 2022, 1:20 PM