Fears grow of mass Ukrainian homelessness in the UK this winter

Rising costs could lead to fewer households willing to host war refugees as first Homes for Ukraine placements near their end

More than 200,000 people in Britain signed up to become hosts under the Homes For Ukraine scheme. Photo: SOPA Images
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Up to 50,000 Ukrainian refugees taken in by households in Britain under UK government policy could soon be homeless, it is feared.

The ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, launched on March 18, allows UK residents to accommodate refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine for a minimum of six months. Households were given a monthly ‘thank you’ payment of £350 ($409).

But the continuing war with Russia, the UK's cost-of-living crisis and a lack of additional government support for sponsors and refugees could lead to the scheme unravelling, with potentially disastrous effects, when the first six-month placements end next month.

A total of 83,900 refugees have arrived under Homes for Ukraine to date. Another 34,100 have come under the Ukraine Family Scheme, which allows UK residents to bring relatives from the war-torn country but comes without financial support from the government.

While the majority have remained with their sponsors or relatives, other arrangements have broken down, leaving some refugees destitute and without a roof over their head.

Government figures show 1,335 'Ukrainian households' have registered as homeless in the UK since the war began in late February but ministers and charities have issued a warning that this number could increase sharply within months.

Analysis by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and children’s charity Barnardo’s found that, based on feedback from hosts, between 15,000 and 21,000 Ukrainians could be homeless by the winter, rising to more than 50,000 by mid-2023, The Guardian reported.

Hosting organisation Refugees at Home says the figure could be even higher due to the effect of the cost-of-living crisis on households’ ability to help others.

When reports of the breakdown of placements began to circulate in June, the charity’s executive director Lauren Scott told The National she was “frustrated and saddened but not surprised” and believed the situation would get a lot worse once the “hosting honeymoon” phase ends.

The first six-month period expires at the end of September amid a dearth of new hosts, despite an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Ukrainians arriving in the UK each week.

In a survey of Homes for Ukraine sponsors carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month, nearly a quarter of respondents said they wanted to host refugees for six months or fewer.

While a large majority said they would like to continue hosting for longer than that minimum period, many raised concerns that the government’s monthly stipend was not going to cover rising energy and food bills.

The survey found nearly one in 10 sponsors said the rising cost of living “very much” affected their ability to provide support and almost all hosts said they regularly provided some form of support beyond accommodation.

Given Britain's nationwide housing shortage and the 9,500-plus Afghan refugees still living in hotels one year after arriving in the UK, charities have been sounding the alarm over the availability of long-term accommodation for Ukrainians once their initial host period ends.

Refugees Minister Lord Harrington last week said monthly payments to UK hosts should double after six months to £700 but the Treasury has so far refused.

The ONS said nearly half the Ukrainians who have come to the UK have found employment but responses revealed that many others were struggling to find jobs because their qualifications are not recognised in the UK and their language skills are limited.

On Tuesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel called on landlords to help house the thousands of Afghan refugees who have yet to be permanently housed by the government. Writing in The Times, she urged landlords to come forward with suitable homes.

A much smaller number of Afghans arrived last year compared to Ukrainians this year but the lack of progress on housing is regarded by some as a worrying indicator of what lies ahead should the Homes for Ukraine scheme collapse.

Founder of Vigil for Visas, a support group for Ukrainians applying for visas to the UK, said the government should be providing financial support to sponsors for three years, the same length of time given to Ukrainian refugees.

“The government’s commitment was for three years, not six months, so there needs to be a longer-term game-plan that doesn’t squander the goodwill of so many,” Kitty Hamilton said.

Increasing tension and blame-shifting between Westminster and local authorities may yet exacerbate the worrying spectre of homelessness among Ukrainians in the UK.

A government representative said councils “have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their head”. The government was working closely with councils to ensure Ukrainians have access to suitable housing if they decide to move on, the official said.

“We’ve provided them with £10,500 per person to cover costs, with access to a rematching service to find a new sponsor in the rare case of a sponsorship breakdown," the representative said. "We have already acted to make sure the £350 thank-you payments are exempt from tax, and continue to monitor and review the support provided.”

Updated: August 30, 2022, 1:07 PM