The National Audit Office has released a new report into the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, supporting Ukrainians fleeing the war that began in early 2022.
According to the report, 131,000 Ukrainians have come to the UK seeking refuge, with the “British public’s generosity” helping the government to “move at speed” as it looked to temporarily support refugees. The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been jointly run by the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities since its inception.
At the beginning of the scheme, the government did consider the risks that it may pose, whilst implementing structures that would help to manage risks, however the report identifies that there are still challenges that need to be overcome. One of these challenges is the risk of homelessness that may come for those refugees as their sponsorships conclude. Spring 2025 will see the end of the visas for those Ukrainians that were first to arrive, however the government has not confirmed whether or not existing three-year visas will be extended.
The report states that:
“The Government worked quickly to help Ukrainians fleeing conflict, enabled by the generosity of the British people who opened their homes.
“The Government will soon need to take important decisions about the future of the scheme, including whether to extend visas beyond three years, and whether to extend funding for local authorities and sponsors, which currently finishes before visas expire. It will also need to carefully monitor key risks, such as safeguarding, and the threat of homelessness as sponsorships end.”
By the end of September 2023, investment of £2.1 billion has been committed to the scheme by the UK Government. Most of this funding was in the form of tariff payments to Local Authorities and ‘thank you’ payments to those sponsoring refugees. Importantly, the funding that was designated for Local Authority use was not ringfenced, giving local authorities the discretion over how those arriving from Ukraine can best be supported, which has led to some local authorities telling the National Audit Office that they have held some of the funding in reserve in case further challenges arise. This is down to the fact that the government has not made it clear whether or not funding will continue.
Challenges will continue to mount if government funding is ceased, as the ‘thank you’ payments are due to expire a year before the visas do. With just under 74,000 sponsors applying to host Ukrainian refugees through the scheme, Ukrainians would need to find other housing arrangements unless sponsors would be willing to continue without the ‘thank you’ payments that they have received over the first two years of the scheme.
The National Audit Office has said that the data on homelessness is incomplete, however 8% (4,890) of the Ukrainian households that arrive before 31st August 2023 have been assessed as being at risk of homelessness, or being homeless, by a local authority. This is likely to increase as the scheme, and sponsorships, end.
Councillor Kevin Bentley, Senior Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association, responded to the new report commenting:
“Councils are doing an excellent job of working with local people and partners to keep 189,600 Ukrainian refugees safe and supported across the UK.
“However, it remains a huge concern that there is no funding for councils beyond the first year and no funding for the 54,900 people that arrived via the family visa route.
“There are also serious concerns around the growing number of Ukrainians presenting as homeless, particularly those families facing the uncertainty of temporary accommodation.
“We want to work with government to review and confirm funding to ensure all families are helped to find permanent homes, jobs and schools and how best to support new and existing sponsors to open up their homes.
“This is alongside the need for urgent and joint solutions to pressing housing needs, given the growing demand from across all the schemes that welcome new arrivals to the UK, as well as broader increases in homelessness and housing pressures locally.”
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