We have all watched with despair as the situation in Ukraine has developed. And our hearts go out to the millions who are now fleeing the country to reach safety, as well as those who remain there.
Through tapping into the generosity of the British public, the Homes for Ukraine scheme is innovative and welcome. The UK homelessness sector may have some useful experience to share, and Homeless Link members may be considering involvement in the programme. Below we set out some facts about the scheme, we share some concerns and solutions, and we ask for your feedback:-
The Kerslake Commission have produced a useful briefing on the key elements of the scheme:-
- The new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme will allow individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to bring Ukrainians to safety – including those with no family ties to the UK.
- The scheme will allow a sponsor in the UK to nominate a named Ukrainian or a named Ukrainian family to stay with them in their home or will allow them to offer a separate property.
- Sponsors will be asked to provide homes or a spare room rent-free for as long as they are able, with a minimum stay of six months, will receive a ‘thank you’ of £350 per month.
- DLUHC is also working to enable communities, the voluntary sector, and organisations such as charities and religious groups to sponsor groups of Ukrainians.
- Ukrainians who have sponsors will be granted three years leave to remain in the UK, with entitlement to work and access public services.
- Those offering accommodation will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.
It is particularly pleasing to see the clarity on entitlement to work and recourse to public funds, something that we have called on to be applied to other refugees in the past. Hopefully, this will lead to a more welcoming approach to others fleeing trauma, regardless of where they are from, in the future.
Of course, the whole system has been created very quickly and going forwards we will work with government to monitor its implementation and impact on homelessness. It has been very positive to see the agility with which Home Office and DLUHC have co-operated to bring this scheme about. But there are bound to be some challenges.
A recent survey from the Local Government Association has found that at least 50 councils have already seen people who fled the war arriving at their offices to request homelessness support. So far this is down to people who have come on the family visa scheme. This scheme allowed Ukrainians to come to the UK if they had family already here, but it did not make any separate money available to the local authorities where they arrived. Going forwards there may be more implications for local housing and homelessness services where either a hosting relationship under the Homes for Ukraine scheme breaks down, or it reaches the end of the six months.
There is also a significant concern that many very vulnerable people, who have experienced significant trauma, may be going into unsuitable accommodation without adequate support. Given that the majority of refugees coming from Ukraine will be women and children, it is particularly crucial that responses are gender and youth informed. And, as with any scheme, there is always a risk that some malicious people will attempt to exploit the scheme and the individuals coming to the UK will be extremely vulnerable. They are likely to be vulnerable to both poor treatment (and at worst modern day slavery) and also to poor housing conditions.
The homelessness sector is ready to support this national effort
In particular the sector has extensive experience of Trauma Informed Care. We may be able to share this learning as the approach could be extremely valuable in helping people to build new lives and move on from their horrific situations.
Our work on adult safeguarding for vulnerable adults could also include a great deal of useful learning and best practice.
Above all, whilst it is very clear that the British public have responded generously, we would be naive not to recognise that there are going to be financial implications for housing and other services. It is critical that local government and local services involved in supporting Ukrainians are properly resourced, so as not to compete with existing priorities. Local Authorities will be on the frontline and we support calls from LGA that additional funding should be made available.
We have offered to work with government to share some of our positive learning We will also gather any intelligence from the ground if things are going wrong. Of course, everyone wants the scheme to be a success and we also hope that peace will return to Ukraine. If you are aware of any impact on your local housing and homelessness services do please contact firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help shape the most effective responses.