The latest key messages from a general debate on Ukraine in the House of Commons, 25 May 2022.
- Councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals so that they can build new lives in the UK and they are already helping to support new arrivals from Ukraine and their sponsors. This includes helping families settle into their communities and access public services, including schools, public health and other support, including access to trauma counselling.
- Councils also offer a huge range of expertise that can and has informed the development and delivery of that support. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, councils have been working closely with the Government to ensure support for new arrivals from Ukraine is put in place quickly and at scale, and families are kept safe. The LGA and councils are in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Minister for Refugees and Government officials. However, there are still key issues of priority for councils that need joint work across local and central Government as a matter of urgency.
- In February, the LGA published survey data which highlighted the large numbers of homelessness presentations by Ukrainian refugees. We know large numbers of arrivals are still coming via the Family Visa scheme rather than the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Councils are keen to find a sponsorship route to support them if their accommodation and support breaks down to avoid families and individuals needing to present as homeless. The funding and data needs to flow to councils to enable this.
- The Government has continued update its guidance for councils for the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We are pleased that it has listened to a number of our concerns on the need greater clarity on welfare and safeguarding checks in advance of and after arrival, as well as improving data flow, following joint work with councils. There is also more detail on the process for flagging safeguarding concerns around individual cases, although the routes for escalation locally and regionally remain unclear. Councils are still keen to have greater clarity on their roles and responsibilities to avoid like local government bearing the risks while the system is still developing in real time. Councils are having to work through issues from both those offering sponsorship and those waiting to arrive, including visa delays and visas not being issued to whole families.
- It is welcome that the rematching process that the LGA and councils have been calling for has been announced. The LGA understands there is further detail to follow, and we would welcome the opportunity to continue to work with Government as the scheme develops. This needs to include councils’ expanded role in checking sponsors and around accessing with the pool of sponsors the community and voluntary sector may have. However, there is still confusion about the different roles and responsibilities when initial sponsors fall through, and we are asking for a single process map to explain what happens at different points.
- Data is now flowing much more effectively to councils. DLUHC have shared expressions of interest information with councils so that they can check sponsors potentially ahead of visa applications, though this will depend improvements in data quality, including full postcode data and more information on accommodation size. DLUHC is pressing for councils to complete the data requirements on the ‘Foundry’ data system for monitoring purposes, as well as surveying councils. We are asking that this top line data is shared to develop a shared understanding of current issues and risks.
- The LGA knows of children arriving without accompanying adults with parental responsibility. Councils are keen to have clarity on their responsibilities – and funding – for any children that arrives with someone who doesn’t have parental responsibility for them, particularly if they will be living with people without a well established family connection.
- Given the increasing asks of councils and because those arriving from Ukraine will need ongoing support, the quantum of funding for councils received needs to be reviewed regularly. Given the funding levels were based on estimates, any review needs to be based on actual spend from councils, We are hearing concerns from councils that the £10,500 is only for one year, whereas integration needs are likely to be longer term, as recognised in other schemes. Councils need early assurances that they will be resourced to provide this support in the longer term. We are calling for greater clarity around low or no cost travel if children have to travel to school if nearby schools are full or in very rural areas.
- The £10,500 for councils is only for the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Councils should be resourced to support all those who arrive from Ukraine since the start of the war, regardless of the route used to enter the country. They will still need and want to utilise local services to meet their specific support needs as new arrivals to the UK and thus incur costs to councils and their local partners.
- Community and voluntary sector partners may also need national funding for their crucial role in supporting new arrivals and their hosts. We would also support funding for Strategic Migration Partnership to facilitate practice sharing and effective communications to and from councils around the wrap around support new arrivals need.
- There are also existing capacity issues which may impact on access to services, including translation services, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision, health, particularly mental health support, and provision for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services. Councils want to see a coordinated approach across other Government departments around wrap around support for sponsors and new arrivals. We would welcome focused work with the Department of Health and the NHS to ensure sufficient access to primary care, dentists and trauma support and therapeutic support, given capacity issues with these.
- In the long-term, we need early discussion on arrangements after the 6-12 months to help people move on to longer term accommodation. All programmes supporting new arrivals to the UK require additional support from councils, including homelessness advice and support and sourcing accommodation. We would be keen to work with government on urgently cross-Whitehall planned approach to access to accommodation across all programmes.
Councils need clear guidance on the next steps if the accommodation and safeguarding checks find a match that is not suitable; when sponsor arrangements break down or simply end so to ensure families swiftly move to other accommodation. Those arriving under the family scheme do not have to arrive to the country with somewhere to stay. Councils are already providing accommodation for homeless families via the visa route, with numbers expected to increase. Councils stand ready to help those if moving across to the sponsorship route is possible, but will need additional information, data and funding for this.
The LGA published a survey of Homelessness Presentations by Ukrainian Arrivals in March which showed that since 24 February, 144 Ukrainian households have presented as homelessness at 57 councils who responded. Almost a third (44) of these households came through the Ukraine Family Scheme; 36 through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and 64 unknown. Councils are still experiencing rapid increases in homeless presentations since the survey was conducted and we understand DLUHC is collecting its own data.
At the moment, the only route suggested by the Government guidance is that where the sponsor relationship breaks down and the guest is homeless or at risk of homelessness, that councils’ statutory homelessness duties will apply in this instance. The £10,500 will not be enough to cover these costs – and furthermore, the Family Scheme has no associated tariff at all. There are already more than 96,000 households already in temporary accommodation (including more than 59,000 households with children) and more than 1.1 million households on local authority housing waiting lists.
Councils want to ensure that temporary accommodation through homelessness services for new arrivals is only used as a very short-term solution when and if absolutely necessary. Temporary accommodation capacity will vary across the country, but we know in many places it is incredibly stretched – in some cases requiring councils to place out of area. Anecdotally we are hearing of pressures on the supply of hotel accommodation, for example, where it is still being used to accommodate Afghan refugees.
We would welcome urgent work on how councils can work with the Government and the community, faith and voluntary sector so those offering their homes can be quickly matched with a family in need.
Councils are keen to have clarity on their responsibilities – and funding – for any children that arrives with someone who doesn’t have parental responsibility for them, and if they will be living with people without an established family connection
We are keen to continue to work with the Government on planning for the arrival of lone children. Any scheme specific to Ukrainian children would need to be developed in partnership with local government to ensure this was deliverable and ensured the safety and wellbeing of children arriving from Ukraine, as well as those already in care and awaiting placements. Local government has significant shortages in placements for unaccompanied children, with high numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children still living in hotels waiting for permanent placements.