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The refugee housing crisis?

2022 ended with a worrying picture for Ukrainian refugees who came to the UK searching for shelter, stability and safety.
Sizing for Housing Executive(402)

Ninesh Muthiah, Founder & CEO of Home Connections

2022 ended with a worrying picture for Ukrainian refugees who came to the UK searching for shelter, stability and safety. The concern mounts as 50,000 people under the Homes for Ukrainian scheme reaches the end of their six-month period of sponsorship, and the question lingers: what is next for them?

The answer is unknown. The Government is urging new potential hosts to come forward after increasing the “thank you” payment for ongoing support after one year of sponsorship and promising new funds for councils to reduce the risk of homelessness. An announcement made in December mentioned a £500 million housing fund to provide up to 4,000 homes by 2024 – a welcome announcement, but one that falls short.

The homes are needed now and in far more quantity. Almost 3,000 Ukrainian households have presented as homeless to English local authorities, who are relying on the Private Rented Sector and temporary accommodation arrangements to deal with a growing demand for social housing. Let’s not forget that waiting lists for social housing in England had the highest number since 2016 with 1.2 million households.

As the chronic social housing deficit grows, councils rely on the Private Rented Sector, hotels and temporary accommodation arrangements. The former two are intended to be no more than a safety net, but it’s becoming more of a permanent state of instability for many families and individuals. Over 9,000 Afghans are still living in hotels after one year since the Afghan Resettlement Programme started. The Homes for Ukraine scheme is failing with over 1,000 households that came to the UK through the scheme now placed in temporary accommodation, including hotels.

For those who are lucky enough to find affordable homes in the Private Rented Sector, another level of support is required. Many Ukrainians are not aware of the complexities of renting a property privately. At Home Connections, we have developed an e-learning module that helps councils to offer training and advice on navigating the Private Rented Sector and increase the chances of success in maintaining tenancies. The online learning module is available in Ukrainian and will be trialled by Haringey council.

While the Private Rented Sector is getting increasingly unaffordable with many landlords unwilling to let properties at LHA rates which are far below market levels, especially in high-demand areas, it still offers an opportunity that can be further explored. Not all private landlords are guided by greed, and some are willing to help. Our national mobility scheme, Homefinder UK, has received an overwhelmingly positive response from private landlords after we launched a campaign in partnership with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme to secure more properties for refugees through the scheme. In only two days, 50 landlords (including private individuals and organisations) have reached out to our team, with more enquiries coming each day. Homefinder UK is currently working with these landlords and matching refugee households families to these properties.

Dire economic conditions are taking hold in this country and will undoubtedly lead to more host arrangements breaking down. The Homes for Ukraine scheme can, and should, go further. It needs a clear path for all (councils, hosts, refugees and charities), with short and long-term strategies that guarantee thousands of Ukrainians don’t end up with an impossible choice: homelessness or returning to a war zone.

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