End of ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme leaving refugees in “desperate” conditions

Image above: a Ukrainian refugee family

West London Welcome highlight “terrible” situation faced by families

The director of West London Welcome, a charity run for and with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in West London, has spoke of the “desperate” conditions many families they work with face in trying to find accommodation.

Those most urgently affected are Ukrainian families, who are facing end of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. A total of 94,900 Ukrainians came to the UK to stay with British host families as part of the Government scheme, which was announced when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in March.

Hosts have received monthly payments of £350 from the Government and were forbidden to charge the refugees rent. Hosting arrangements were for a minimum of six months and many are coming to an end.

Fewer UK hosts are now coming forward and the number of requests from Ukrainians for rematching is increasing. Many are being thrown onto the housing market which is unaffordable to many in a much stronger financial situation than they are and is hostile to those on low-incomes and Universal credit.

Since the scheme was introduced, many Ukrainian households have become homeless – around one third of them in London. According to government figures from 24 February 2022 until 26 August 2022, there were 1,565 Ukrainian households registered as homeless by councils.

Image above: refugees at a West London Welcome event

Refugees in “desperate need” of stable accommodation

Joanne MacInnes, Founder and Director of West London Welcome, said those who the charity works with were in “desperate need” of flats where landlords are willing to accept Universal credit as means of paying rent – whether that be for Afghan refugees still living in hotels or Ukrainians who need to find local flats, so as not to uproot the life they have built over the last six months.

“There’s quite a few Ukrainian single mums coming out of hosting because the six months have expired and a lot of hosts don’t want to do it anymore” Joanne told The Chiswick Calendar.

“For example, there’s one based in Chiswick and she is working, but she can’t find anything affordable in the area. Her child is at Chiswick School and she doesn’t want to leave the area with her child just settled in.”

Despite securing a management position in a retail outlet in Hammersmith, the mother still doesn’t have enough money to move into somewhere locally. Joanne said:

“She can’t find a guarantor, she needs sufficient money for the first month’s rent – and she needs an affordable rent. It’s a basic issue of either someone hosting or affordable rents. So in her case we find another host for another six months or we help to find her a flat.”

West London Welcome has effectively turned into “an estate agent” she told me, as they scramble to find places for people to live. Affordability and low-incomes is something many UK residents struggle with as part of the general housing crisis, but refugees often don’t speak the language or have the local knowledge to even begin to be able to look by themselves.

Most will have insufficient credit history in the UK and many have no one who would be their guarantor.

Emergency housing can be made available by borough councils should people, mostly disabled people and single mothers with children, be pushed into homelessness. But this may have a downside, as the emergency housing may be in a different area, effectively uprooting them from areas they have got to know and putting long distances between home and school for children and home and work for parents.

Most emergency accommodation is situated out of the borough too, and could be as far as Enfield, Croydon or even out of London entirely.

Image above: library image

Situation has left people “suicidal”

The situation continues to be incredibly demoralising those who have sought and been granted asylum in the UK. Joanne told me:

“We often see those people who waited the two years to get the interview and then get a positive decision, and then they’re given an eviction notice by the Home Office to move out of the property the Home Office put them in, and they’ve got nowhere to go.

“You see them elated at first because they’ve finally got refuge here, leave to remain, but then they quickly become more depressed because the hope of finding a home has receded.”

Ukrainian refugees particularly have been hit hard by the uncertainty which the end of the Homes for Ukraine has wrought, which Joanne said was ill-conceived and badly handled by the Government. Many people still have family back in their home countries, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere, where their families may still be unsafe compounding their anxieties.

“These are people with fragile mental health to begin with, so we have had quite a few people who end up suicidal over it. They were clinging onto this, if I can only get a decision and get sanctuary, I know I’m going to be safe. But then, not be prepared for the difficulty which comes after that, find affordable housing, get a job, all the rest of it.

“Often people are at their worst at that transition time.”

The “everyday trauma” which Joanne says her members face is the prospect of life being ripped out from under their feet once again after making friends, finding a community, finding local connections, and a sense of stability after a sustained period of instability.

Image above: Joanne MacInnes (centre – green) at a West London Welcome event with other volunteers and members

Calls for private landlords to accept Universal credit to alleviate crisis

While it would not completely solve the pressures facing those who West London Welcome helps on a day to day basis, the charity is calling on private landlords to accept tenants who are on Universal credit.

“The Government has always failed to do a housing callout, a private landlord callout. They failed do to it when got the Syrians over, they failed to do it with the Afghan evacuation, they’ve failed to do it with the Ukrainians. We just need more landlords signing up to say I’m willing to take universal credit.”

While letting agents cannot say it’s the landlord’s choice to refuse tenants on benefits, and agents must not take instructions which discriminate when renting out properties, there is no law that specifically says a private landlord cannot refuse a property to a tenant who is claiming benefits. Private landlords are not regulated in the same way as agents.

“The market rate for a one bedroom in Hammersmith and Fulham is probably minimum £1200. If you’re under 35 you only get £400 a month… This Ukrainian mum, she’s willing to share with her teenage daughter, a bedroom. It’s still unaffordable to her and she still can’t get a guarantor or know where she’s supposed to get a deposit.”

The resolution, Joanne says, rests with borough councils who should call on the Government to allow them to offer wider support to refugee families. While she said Liz Truss’ administration is too hostile to offer any help to other refugees, she thinks councils should at least be able to offer refugees help with deposits and guarantors.

West London Welcome ask that anyone who can host in their home or has a property to let get in touch at hello@westlondonwelcome.com.

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