Ukrainians refugees are being forced to register as homeless upon arriving in Britain because their relatives don’t have enough space and the government isn’t offering them alternative accommodation, it has emerged.
The refugees have been granted visas on the UK family scheme but their relatives in Britain do not have have enough room to house them, leaving councils to ‘pick up the pieces’.
The government hasn’t made any extra funding available because the Ukraine family scheme, opened on March 4, assumes the refugees will be staying with relatives.
However, in some cases the UK-based relatives do not have space for their family members fleeing Ukraine, leaving councils and charities to support them.
The latest development was reported by the Local Government Association, which represents 350 councils across England and Wales.
The body has called on the government to provide funding to support Ukrainian refugees presenting as homeless.
Councils are given £10,500 per refugee when taking in Ukrainians without family, in a separate visa scheme.
Oleksandr Polishchuk, a volunteer at Support Ukraine, which is based in west London, said he had come across dozens of Ukrainians who have arrived in recent weeks only to discover they have nowhere to stay.
In once case, a couple aged over 60 with a 96-year-old mother came to join their daughter under the family scheme but could not fit into her studio flat.
Oleksandr Polishchuk, a volunteer at Support Ukraine, which is based in in West London, said dozens of Ukrainians are arriving in London without a place to stay
Ukrainian refugees at the railway station in Odessa, Ukraine preparing to flee the country
He told the Independent: ‘She was already living their with her two young children. They went there at first but it was unsustainable and unbearable.
‘They picked up their bags and arrived at Victoria coach station and were referred to us by police. They had nowhere to stay. They are now being housed by the council.
‘The government issued a policy, but left implementations to the local councils. The system is not in place. We are working with them closely and trying to figure out solutions.’
He added: ‘Councils want to provide support, but lack of clarity and preparation made it difficult. They’ve been left to pick up the pieces and they are making steady progress.’
A spokesperson for London Councils said: ‘As people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have started to arrive in London, boroughs are seeing numbers of people presenting as homeless and are providing appropriate accommodation and support.
‘We are working with government to discuss how best to care for and support arrivals while balancing existing pressures.’
Charlie Richards, a volunteer with the Ukrainian Centre in Reading, revealed that some refugees are even moving in with people informally, leading to concerns about safety and safeguarding.
An LGA spokesperson said: ‘Councils would like the same arrangements to be in place for the family visa route as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. This includes advance notice of new arrivals and the funding to support them when they are here.
‘We are also discussing with government whether it would be possible to match new arrivals with sponsors registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they cannot stay with their family.’
The UK Government set out details of the sponsorship scheme to help Ukrainian refugees
Ukrainian refugees (from left) Anna Zamostana, Marya Vynnyshenko, Anna Vynnyshenko, 10, and Tanya Vynnyshenko volunteer at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Manchester yesterday
A government spokesperson said: ‘The Ukraine family scheme is helping thousands of people fleeing horrific persecution in Ukraine be reunited with family in the UK.
‘Our expectation is people arriving through the family scheme will be initially supported by their loved ones, so they can find work and integrate into the UK. In the exceptional case someone is left without support from their families, Ukrainians will be able to access local council support.’
Britain has so far granted just 2,700 visas to Ukrainians under the Homes for Ukraine scheme despite having received ten times as many applications, it has emerged.
Official UK figures showed there have been 28,300 visa applications received under the sponsorship scheme, plus a further 31,200 under the Ukraine Family Scheme.
Home Office officials gave the total number of visas issued as 25,500 – including 2,700 under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and 22,800 under the family scheme.
The scheme opened on March 14 to allow individuals, charities and businesses to bring Ukrainians – including those with no family ties to the UK – to safety.
However, Britain retains a visa requirement on security grounds while other European countries have waived checks in response to the humanitarian crisis.
And the United Nations refugee agency said that a total of more than four million refugees have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war on February 24.
More than 200,000 kind-hearted British families have volunteered to open their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the war, but many have been left angered and frustrated by swathes of red tape.