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. Councils want to both help new arrivals settle in the UK as quickly possible and to support communities who wish to offer assistance to those fleeing the devastating conflict. Councils have a huge range of expertise that could inform the development and delivery of support for new arrivals from Ukraine across all routes to the UK. This includes helping families settle into their communities and access public services, including schools, public health and other support, including access to trauma counselling.
- 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 regarding the Homes for Ukraine scheme to clarify the details. We look forward to continued engagement for councils in England and across the UK.
- The Government continues to update its guidance for councils for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and we are pleased that it has listened to a number of our concerns on the scheme, as well as improving data flow between councils and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLHUC).
- There are however a number of issues which still need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Firstly, councils are still experiencing rapid increases in homeless presentations and want to see a clear process for re-matching to avoid homelessness. This includes those whose sponsorship arrangements fail and for those arriving via the family visa scheme but are unable to stay with family members. Councils are already reporting families presenting as homeless via the family visa route, with numbers expected to increase. The LGA published a survey of Homelessness Presentations by Ukrainian Arrivals last month 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.
- Following discussions with DLUHC over the last few weeks for councils to have access to better quality data, we are pleased that Expression of Interest (EOI) data has now been made for councils which could allow for rematching. There are however a number of issues around data quality which still exist and we will continue to work with DLUHC so that councils are able to access the data that they need in the format that is useful to them.
- The LGA is hearing reports of children arriving without accompanying adults with parental responsibility. Councils are keen to have urgent confirmation of how lone children should be supported, given the steer by the Ukrainian government that children should not be taken into care. We understand the Department for Education (DfE) is working with the Home Office to deal with this issue.
- We also want to see greater clarity on the expectations of councils in relation to accommodation and safeguarding checks. Councils wish to move quickly and take a pragmatic approach, but require assurances and further guidance on their legal duties regarding housing checks.
- The £10,500 for councils is only for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, whereas those coming under the family visa scheme will still utilise local services and thus leading to a cost to 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.
- There are also costs for local partners which cannot be found within existing budgets and will impact on directly on ensuring access to services. There are existing capacity issues with translation services, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision and health, particularly mental health support, as well as provision for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services. Councils are already flagging issues with access to translation services.
- Councils also want to see a coordinated approach across other government departments. This includes the DfE producing guidance to academies on access to school places where local schools have reached capacity and the DHSC working with the NHS to ensure sufficient access to primary care and trauma support / therapeutic support.
- We also need clarity on councils’ role in supporting integration, securing access to accommodation at the end of sponsorships and for recognition of the pressures caused by the wider asylum and resettlement context. The LGA and councils are keen to continue to work with the Government on these issues.
The Government published updated guidance for councils for the Homes for Ukraine scheme on Wednesday 13 April, with further updates expected this week. The Government listened to local government regarding the legal liability of councils in relation to safeguarding and accommodation checks, something which LGA’s Chairman, Cllr Jamieson raised with the Levelling Up Committee as part of their inquiry on Ukrainian refugees on Wednesday 30 March.
However, our substantive asks regarding providing a clear framework for housing checks; guidance around dealing with safeguarding issues beyond just the initial DBS check; clear steer on breakdown of placements and rematching and clarity of data still require further detail. The LGA will continue to work with the Government on these and other issues of priority for councils:
1. Clear process: we are keen to work with government to set out clearly and quickly the expectations of and risks to councils, particularly around both initial and ongoing safeguarding and housing checks, with aligned communications to sponsors about the asks of them. The LGA is sharing good practice to enable councils to develop local policies and processes.
2. Homelessness risks: councils are also reporting requests for housing support via all routes. Councils also need clear guidance on what happens when sponsor arrangements are assessed to be unsafe, break down, or end, to ensure families swiftly move to other sponsorships regardless of their route to the UK.
3. Parity across both routes: Councils should receive funding and data for both schemes as councils will have a crucial role in providing accommodation for homeless families, ensuring integration and access to local services. Confirmation is needed on whether visa route families can move across to the sponsor route to avoid becoming homeless.
4. Unaccompanied children: we would also be keen to continue to work with government on any potential arrival of lone children, with councils already reporting lone children requesting support via existing routes.
5. Engagement: there is a need for clearer engagement structures to enable local government representatives to work with central government at a local, regional and national level to share issues and solutions, including on the next iteration of the guidance.
Making it work
6. DBS checks: councils are raising concerns on the pace of these being issued and the expectations of them in terms of assessing sponsor suitability before these are issued. Councils would also like to use their own local intelligence to supplement checks.
7. Resources: we would welcome ongoing review y on what the £10,500 per person payment is to cover across the range of council and local services required, particularly around high cost areas like social care and special educational needs. We would support early planning for future years and ongoing work on funding flows in two tier areas.
8. Cross system pressures. Services from local partners cannot be found within existing capacity budgets, with acknowledged pressures on ESOL/EAL provision and health, particularly specialist mental health support. There will also also costs for national and local community, faith and voluntary sector for their role
9. Port authorities we welcome further work on clarifying what is the role of port authorities in welcoming new arrivals, particularly if numbers rapidly upscale.
10. Wider system: there is an ongoing need to tackle ongoing pressures and issues in related schemes for asylum and resettlement given both to the reduce the impacts on all new arrivals and the cumulative pressures on local areas
Planning ahead – phase two and beyond
11. Cross system approach: we are keen to continue work with government and the community, faith and the voluntary sector, and other local partners, to build a process at pace and scale for both stage 2 and for the end of sponsorship. This will enable local partners understand and meet the needs for those sponsoring and those sponsored.
12. Accommodation solutions: joint work, alongside housing providers and other partners, is needed to find innovative solutions at pace and at scale around access to housing at the end of sponsorship.
Accommodation and safeguarding checks
As highlighted above, expectations of – and risk to - councils must be set out clearly and quickly, particularly expectations around both initial and ongoing safeguarding and housing checks, and these placed in the existing statutory frameworks. We would welcome clarity on the process for refusing or claiming back the thank you payment should a sponsors’ accommodation be deemed unsafe.
Councils are raising concerns on the pace of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks with knock on impacts on their wish to assess sponsor suitability ideally before or immediately after arrival. Councils would also like to use their own local intelligence to supplement checks and would like clearer expectations of them in terms of assessing sponsor suitability before DBS checks were issued. We have suggested those who have existing or lapsed DBS checks, and therefore can be quickly processed, should be prioritised as sponsors.
Councils also need clear routes into government to flag systemic issues around safeguarding or housing checks.
Councils’ roles and responsibilities are likely to be ongoing rather than one off. Guidance also needs to be clearer on responsibilities to access to and signposting to services that reduce safeguarding risks such as contacting the police as soon new arrivals feel unsafe and availability of domestic abuse services.
Councils also 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. There needs to be a way of quickly routing guests back into the Homes for Ukraine scheme and finding new sponsors, with more information on this given below.
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 councils will need additional funding for this. Councils should receive information, data and funding for both schemes.
The LGA published a survey of Homelessness Presentations by Ukrainian Arrivals last month 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 that government will be undertaking its own survey.
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.
The funding for schools is a welcome recognition of the pressures on schools and on school places. All children arriving under the Afghan scheme have a place in schools.
Councils are however worried about what happens if children arrive in an area and schools are already full, or schools are unwilling to take children. The major concern is councils cannot direct academies to admit pupils. They have to apply to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for them to use their powers and this can sometimes be bureaucratic and time-consuming. We would ask DfE and ESFA to work constructively with councils on the ground to resolve issues where schools are full, but the local authority considers that a local school has capacity to admit them – even if only temporarily until more long-term arrangements can be made.
Councils work with schools to admit children in-year through Fair Access Protocols (FAPs) and if there are widespread issues, we would want work with DfE on amending the guidance on FAPs to ensure it effectively deals with incoming children. FAP arrangements cover “children of, or who are, Gypsies, Roma, Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers.”
There may be situations where schools cannot physically, or in staff terms, accommodate new children and the provision of new temporary classes or spaces will be needed, as well as additional funding. We would like DfE to work with councils to help them respond to localised shortages of the necessary school places and staff to teach and support new pupils.
Councils and schools need to be supported and encouraged to work constructively to provide the places needed and get arriving children into schools as quickly as possible, including by DfE and EFSA where they need to use their powers or additional funding is needed.
We are calling on the Government to ensure costs as met if children have to travel to school if nearby schools are full.
The LGA is getting more and more reports of children getting visas on the Homes for Ukraine scheme without accompanying adults. We understand DfE is working with the Home Office to deal with this. Unaccompanied children have also been reported to have arrived via the family visa route and outside of the formal schemes. Councils need urgent clarification on the legal status of unaccompanied children from Ukraine.
At the moment, unaccompanied children are mostly being kept in border countries to try to reunite them with family. We are also speaking with the Home Office on what support we can provide those countries, for example, social work expertise or equipment.
There is not a specific plan for unaccompanied children, and 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.
Following discussions with the department over the last few weeks for councils to have access to better quality data, there are however a number of issues around data quality which still exist and we will continue to work with DLUHC so that councils are able to access the data that they need in the format that is useful to them. We are pleased that Expression of Interest (EOI) data has now been made for councils.
As noted above, there is an ongoing need to tackle ongoing pressures and issues in related schemes for asylum and resettlement given both to the reduce the impacts on all new arrivals and the cumulative pressures on local area. We would welcome the sharing of regular data about numbers of asylum seekers, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, Afghan, and other resettlement schemes in different local authority areas. Further transparency would aid a more constructive debate about the pressures affecting different areas.
The £10,500 is only for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, whereas those coming under the family visa scheme will still need local services and thus cost to councils.
Although the funding levels is based on other resettlement schemes, the ask of councils is different. Local government would welcome a breakdown on what the £10,500 per person payment is to cover to assure it is sufficient. Currently we are aware it is to cover:
- the £200 one off payment to families as they come into the country.
- administration of the £350 welcome payment to sponsors.
- cost of DBS checks.
- Councils’ statutory functions’ role including as yet undefined safeguarding checks and homelessness assistance.
- Signposting or delivering services such as specialist health services such as vaccines or mental health services, adult social care and children’s services and advice on work and benefits.
- Integration support including securing access to translation services and working with local voluntary sector organisations and faith groups to help signpost advice and support, and to build capacity where these are not in place.
As previously mentioned, we are concerned that the £10,500 would not be able to cover follow-up accommodation checks and rematching if they are required. Councils are already flagging issues with access to translation services. The £10,500 is only for one year whereas integration needs are likely to be longer term, as recognised in other schemes.
There needs to be clarity on how funding flows if people move between areas and whether people can choose to do so after they have been matched.
There are also costs for local partners which cannot be found within existing budgets and will impact on directly on ensuring access to services. There are existing capacity issues with translation services, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision and health, particularly mental health support, as well as provision for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services.
Existing Strategic Migration Partnerships will play a key role is sharing practice and collating issues and concerns from councils. They will need additional funding to build capacity to support this new programme.