Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas finds the details of preparations are unclear and some local organisations are remaining tight-lipped about even outline plans …
EXPRESSIONS of interest from people wanting to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees are reported to have flooded in but the readiness of local authorities and other organisations to receive the refugees is not clear.
The government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme wants individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to provide rent-free accommodation – be it a room or separate self-contained space – to their ‘sponsored refugee(s) for a minimum of six months.
In return the sponsors will receive £350 per month – in arrears – which will be tax-free and the indications are that because it is not a rent payment, mortgage lenders will not view it as a breach of the mortgage conditions.
The sponsors will not be required to provide food and other essentials but the Ukrainians who receive a visa under this sponsorship scheme will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years, and be able to access healthcare, benefits, employment support, education, and English language tuition.
As can be expected with a policy that has been put together very quickly and is designed to avoid the need for the government to find and pay directly for the refugees’ accommodation – as was the case with Afghan refugees some of whom are reported to still be housed in hotel rooms – many of the details are vague or not stated, raising questions about how it will work in practice.
‘local authorities responsible for wraparound services’
In particular, the responsibilities – and the resources to fulfil them – of local authorities and other agencies have not been fully explained leaving them to plan ‘in the dark’.
When giving evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, the recently appointed Minister for Refugees Lord Harrington of Watford confirmed that local authorities will receive £10,500 in the first year for each refugee received in their area.
He said: “The primary responsibility of the local authorities that we have discussed this with is all of the—this is the trendy expression—wraparound services that go with, which include the things local authorities are normally involved in: education, social care, safeguarding, facilitating English language training and other things”.
Among the immediate challenges will be the safeguarding of the refugees – many of them women and children – and this will require DBS and other background checks on sponsors, as well as making sure the accommodation provided is suitable and of an acceptable standard.
With the number of expressions of interest from sponsors in the tens of thousands – and likely to reach hundreds of thousands – the number of checks required will be massive and Lord Harrington admitted that, “it may not be possible” for local authorities to carry them out before the refugees arrive at their accommodation.
He added that local authorities, “will probably need to hire extra social workers and people to do inspections.”
For Gosport and Fareham, Hampshire County Council is the unitary authority responsible for education, social care, and safeguarding. It has uploaded to its website information – including a warning about scams – for residents.
Councillor Keith Mans states on the website that the county council remains, “poised to support, if called upon by Government to do so, those who may be directly affected and fleeing the fighting, as we have done in the past – supporting, refugees and evacuees from previous conflicts.”
However, The Globe has not – at the time of writing – received a reply to its request for the details of how the authority is preparing for the arrival of the sponsored refugees in the county.
‘these are very early days and the detail has yet to be confirmed’
Unsurprising, therefore, Fareham and Gosport borough councils say they are ready to help but do not know what will be required of them.
The Executive Leader of Fareham Borough Council Councillor Seán Woodward told The Globe: “As with the previous schemes for refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, Fareham Borough Council will work with its colleagues at Hampshire County Council for the relocation and resettlement of Ukrainian refugees.
“The scheme is likely to be coordinated by the Home Office through Hampshire County Council but these are very early days and the detail has yet to be confirmed.
“The Government has launched a ‘Homes for Ukraine campaign’ to the public but the Council has not yet received details of the role it will play in helping to roll this out.
“This is a constantly evolving situation and I would like to reassure all those that live and work in the Borough that Fareham Borough Council is ready to respond at pace when required to do so.”
His counterpart in Gosport, the leader of the borough council Councillor Graham Burgess was similarly uncertain about what will be required and said: “We are waiting for more details but I would expect some of the money [from Hampshire County Council] to come to us.”
Health care especially mental health
There have been numerous reports over the last few weeks of the traumatic experiences of Ukrainian refugees caught up in the Russian invasion – the bombing, their homes destroyed, seeing dead bodies in the streets, leaving loved ones in order to flee the ravages of the war, and the long journey into the unknown.
In addition to the mental anguish, they are likely – as with any group of people – to have a range of medical issues.
The Department of Health and Social Care has stated that, “Ukrainians fleeing their home country will be guaranteed free access to NHS healthcare, including hospital services, GP and nurse consultations, urgent care centres and injury units.”
This will add to a health system that is being stretched by another wave of Omicron infections and trying to reduce the waiting list for operations and other treatments that have been held up by the Covid pandemic.
In Gosport and Fareham, the NHS Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight Clinical Commissioning Group is, “responsible for ensuring the right healthcare services are provided in the right place to the highest quality.”
When The Globe asked the CCG about its preparations – including support for GPs and other parts of primary care – for the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, it was referred to the Department of Health and Social Care for the answers.
However – at the time of writing – the department has not responded to The Globe‘s questions.
When Lord Harrington was asked at the Home Affairs Committee meeting about how vulnerable people would be protected from exploitation, he replied: “That is part of what we are paying local authorities for, using the mechanisms they have.”
However, if the exploitation results in physical or mental abuse it could be a criminal offence and Hampshire & Isle of Wight Police & Crime Commissioner Donna Jones is currently seeking views on violence against women and girls.
The Globe asked the PCC about preparations for ensuring her office and Hampshire Constabulary fulfil their responsibilities in respect of the Ukrainians expected to arrive in the counties – but at the time of writing, no reply has been received.
And it was a similar story with no substantive responses from the area’s two MPs – Fareham’s Suella Braverman and Gosport’s Caroline Dinenage [see Postscript below].
At least the not-for-profit sector was more forthcoming.
Citizens Advice Gosport’s Chief Officer Valerie Kelly said: “We have rolled out guidance to the team and have a specific link [to information about bringing Ukrainian family members to the UK] on our website.
“We already have translation services in place. We’re as ready as we can be and we’ll see what the need is.”
Sources of advice and guidance
Anyone wanting to express interest in sponsoring a Ukrainian family can find further information and the registration form HERE.
Advice on receiving a Ukrainian family into your accommodation is available from various sources including the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the HomeOwners Alliance.
Shortly after the publication of the above report, The Globe received a message from the office of Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage.
It stated that seven constituents had contacted her office with offers of their houses for Ukrainian refugees though it was not known if these constituents then formally registered with the Homes for Ukraine campaign.
When constituents have contacted her asking where they can donate locally and how else they can assist, they have been directed to local donation points.
The MP has put together a page on her website that includes details of local and national donation campaigns as well as details of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
PICTURED BY SHUTTERSTOCK: Ukrainian flag on pole in support of the nation.