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.
- 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.
- The Government has now started publishing information on homelessness duties accepted by local authorities in England in respect of Ukrainian households. The latest figures show that councils are still facing the most significant number of homelessness presentations through the Family Visa scheme – almost 70 per cent (455) of the total number (660). 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 to 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, and the introduction of a rematching process following joint work with councils. Councils remain keen to have clarity on their developing roles and responsibilities as process issues emerge as the system develops in real time. There is now more detail on the process for flagging safeguarding concerns around individual cases, although the routes for escalation locally and regionally remain unclear. Councils were also having to balance capacity to undertaken checks and provide support whilst 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.
- 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 child who arrives without someone with 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 new arrivals and their hosts. 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 an early discussion on arrangements after the six months planned for sponsorship to help people move on to longer term accommodation, stay on with their existing hosts or be rematched; alongside the wrap around support needed to help them integrate into their new communities. All programmes supporting new arrivals to the UK require additional support from councils, including homelessness advice and support and sourcing accommodation. We are keen to work with the Government on urgently cross-Whitehall planned approach to access to accommodation across all
Support for children supported through Homes for Ukraine
Councils are working closely with their partners across the public and voluntary and community sector to provide support to children and families arriving through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They are also working to support host families to ensure that children and families staying with them are well supported, for example through providing guidance on cultural differences and where to get support if there are concerns about children.
While councils thus far have not reported significant challenges in identifying school places for Ukrainian children, we are starting to hear concerns that this may become more difficult as the conflict progresses and more children arrive. Councils are also concerned about longer-term plans as Homes for Ukraine sponsorship arrangements come to an end. Pressure on housing may see families needing to move out of area to find affordable homes to rent which may lead to children needing to change schools shortly after they have settled in, or having to make long journeys which is difficult for the child and expensive for the council.
We are also starting to see mental health issues arising in children as a result of the significant trauma they have experienced. We know from our experiences supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that there can be barriers to children accessing support including stigma and service providers’ lack of cultural awareness. Long waiting lists for assessment and treatment by children’s mental health services are well documented, with children waiting anywhere from seven days to almost three years for assessment. It is vital that children are able to access appropriate support when they first need it, whether that is lower-level support such as that provided in schools or in the community, or specialist support by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Specialist support will require sufficient investment and putting in place the right pathways to access support by the NHS.
Lack of parity between Homes for Ukraine and family visa scheme
The lack of parity between the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the family visa scheme is having an impact on the support available to children.
In particular, where arrangements break down between those on the family visa scheme, councils are not allowed to move these families onto the Homes for Ukraine scheme and as such are having to accommodate them under homelessness legislation. This means that families are having to stay in temporary accommodation, sometimes for many weeks.
Funding is also available for school and early years placements for children on the Homes for Ukraine scheme but not for those on the family visa scheme. This is becoming a challenge for schools, who are keen to support all children from Ukraine but whose finances are already exceptionally stretched and who will struggle to provide children with additional support if they are not funded to do so.
Councils have been keen to do all they can to support children escaping the conflict in Ukraine. However, this work is in the context of the need to support child refugees from across the world, including those currently living with their families in hotels under the Afghan relocation scheme and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, some of whom are living in hotels as a result of a lack of available placements across the country.
It is vital that the Government considers the issue of asylum and refugee dispersal and support in the round to develop a more holistic approach to supporting all those fleeing war and persecution, to ensure that we are able to provide the right homes and support to all child and adult refugees and asylum-seekers.
Some councils have reported that Ukrainian parents are arriving with their children through the family visa scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme and leaving those children with hosts to return to Ukraine to care for other relatives.
Current guidance outlines that where councils are made aware of such situations, their statutory duties under the Children Act 1989 apply which could include taking a child into care; we are aware of several instances of this happening to date.
While we recognise that parents are acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their children in a humanitarian emergency, it is vital that children are properly safeguarded and that someone is able to act in their best interests in the absence of their parents. We encourage the Government to consider what more can be done to prevent such situations occurring and how children, families and hosts should be supported should this happen.