‘Unacceptable that Ukrainians cannot switch between visa schemes after arrival’
Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK under the family visa scheme with nowhere to live should not have to register as homeless when residents nearby are offering accommodation, the Government has been told.
They should also not be required to find a sponsor before “escaping a war zone” if their family member cannot give them a room, Labour MP Clive Betts said in a letter to refugees minister Lord Harrington.
Refugees with family connections in the UK are currently unable to transfer on to the Homes For Ukraine sponsorship scheme if their relatives cannot provide accommodation.
This means councils are having to provide them with emergency accommodation, such as hotels.
In a letter to Mr Betts, who is chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Lord Harrington had said it is not possible to switch schemes after arrival.
Ukrainians with relatives who cannot accommodate them are “welcome to apply” under the sponsorship scheme, but must do so before they arrive in the UK, he said.
Mr Betts said the committee had found this “unacceptable”, and that he “strongly” urges the Government to rethink the policy.
Responding to Lord Harrington on Wednesday, he wrote: “It should not be incumbent on refugees escaping a war zone to find a sponsor before leaving that war zone simply because their family in the UK does not have suitable accommodation.
“Nor should a refugee arriving on the family scheme have to register with their council as homeless when residents in the area are willing to offer accommodation.”
In early April, Local Government Association chairman James Jamieson warned that councils were already seeing a “concerning increase” in homelessness presentations from Ukraine arrivals.
A survey by the LGA as the schemes were being rolled out revealed that 57 councils had been approached by a total of 144 Ukrainian households who had become homeless after arriving under both schemes.
This was due to family members being unable or unwilling to accommodate them, as well as matches under the sponsorship scheme breaking down.
It is not clear how many Ukrainian refugees are currently being supported in emergency accommodation.
The Government is collecting figures on how many Ukrainians have presented to councils as homeless, but declined to share these numbers when asked by the PA news agency.
In his correspondence, Mr Betts also asked if officials have examined the impact of providing councils with funding for arrivals under the sponsorship scheme, but not for those with family ties.
Councils receive £10,500 for each person who comes to the UK under the Homes For Ukraine scheme to cover the cost of helping them settle and rebuild their lives.
Hosts will receive a £350 “thank you” payment each month, while refugees are entitled to a £200 interim payment to help with subsistence costs on arrival.
Lord Harrington had said the family scheme is similar to existing family visa routes, and refugees can access public services “in the usual way”, with full entitlement to work and benefits.
Mr Betts said this is “unacceptable” because those arriving under the family route will have similar needs to those who are being hosted by sponsors, such as school places, community integration, and trauma support.
He wrote: “There are local authorities with an existing Ukrainian community which will in all likelihood receive a large number of refugees through the Ukraine Family Scheme.
“The local authorities will see increased demand for their services, but are being told there is no funding available to cover this.”
Mr Betts also asked if Lord Harrington could confirm whether councils are being told how many Ukrainians are arriving in their local area via the family route, saying this is “vital” so they can provide services and allocate resources.
A Government spokeswoman said: “These schemes are designed to ensure that people who are coming to the UK fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine are provided with accommodation by their family or sponsor.”
She added that councils have a duty to support refugees arriving via the family scheme, including homelessness assistance.
The Home Office is said to be working with local leaders and other Government departments to better understand the costs councils will incur supporting refugees with family connections.
It is understood that the Government is working with councils to enable a way to rematch people whose placements under the Homes for Ukraine scheme break down or are not suitable.Published: by Radio NewsHub