Ukrainian refugees, House of Lords, 6 March 2022

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 and councils are keen to continue to work with the Government on these issues.


Key messages

  • Councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals, stepping forward to offer homes and support so families and individuals 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.
  • Since the beginning of the people in Ukraine began fleeing their country following the Russian invasion, the LGA and 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. As well as playing a unique role in welcoming new arrivals, councils have a huge range of expertise that could inform 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.
  • The LGA and councils are in regular contact with the Minister for Refugees and Government officials regarding the Homes for Ukraine scheme to clarify the details. These meetings have been useful and have helped us understand what is expected of local government as new arrivals come to the country, and we look forward to continued engagement for councils in England and across the UK.
  • The Government published updated guidance for councils for the Homes for Ukraine scheme on Wednesday 30 March. It was welcome that 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 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 and councils are keen to continue to work with the Government on these issues.
  • Beyond guidance, councils are also reporting significant issues with the data quality and access with concern around duplication and missing information. This is leading to extra work for local authorities such as data cleansing. At the moment, the data councils are receiving is under the Homes for Ukraine scheme only. 
  • Councils are already reporting families presenting as homeless via the family visa route, with numbers expected to increase. The LGA recently published a survey of Homelessness Presentations by Ukrainian Arrivals 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. 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 should receive information, data and funding for both schemes.
  • The LGA is getting more and more reports of children getting visas on the Homes for Ukraine scheme without accompanying adults via the family visa route and outside of the formal schemes. We understand DfE is working with the Home Office to deal with this issue. Councils need urgent clarification on the legal status of any unaccompanied children from Ukraine.
  • 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. In addition, 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.
  • 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. Councils are already flagging issues with access to translation services. 

Guidance

Initial guidance for councils and citizens was published on 18 March, but the LGA and councils sought further clarity on roles, responsibilities and risks of and for councils.

The Government published updated guidance for councils for the Homes for Ukraine scheme on Wednesday 30 March. 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 earlier that day. 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.

Current priorities

  • 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. There needs to be aligned communications to sponsors about the asks of them.
  • Homelessness risks: councils are also reporting requests for 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 accommodation. 
  • Parity across both routes: confirmation is needed on whether visa route families can move across to the sponsor route to avoid becoming homeless.  Councils should receive funding for both schemes as councils will have a crucial role in providing accommodation for homeless families, ensuring integration and access to local services.
  • Access to data. councils are reporting significant issues with the data flow, with concern around duplication and missing information. Councils would also wish to receive top line data on numbers of arrivals and where they are settling. Councils also need to receive any data on care needs in children and adults, to ensure local services can be put in place and sponsor arrangements checked for suitability, ideally in advance of travel.

Making it work

  • 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.
  • Resources: we would welcome further clarity on what the £10,500 per person payment is to cover across the range of council and local services required. We would support early planning for future years and ongoing work on funding flows in two tier areas.
  • Unaccompanied children: we would also be keen to continue to work with government on any potential arrival of lone children given existing placement capacity issues, with councils already reporting lone children requesting support via existing routes.
  • Port authorities we welcome further work on clarifying what is the role of port authorities in welcoming new arrivals, particularly if numbers rapidly upscale.
  • Communication and engagement: there needs to be a clearer process for engagement at a regional and national level at both operational and strategic level to use councils expertise.
  • 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

  • Cross system pressures: there are also costs for national and local community, faith and voluntary sector for their role. 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.
  • 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.  Councils will need access to data on potential sponsors in their areas to enable them to undertake checks in advance and also quickly rematch if the initial sponsorship proves to be unsafe or breaks down.  There also needs to further clarity on how sponsors will be supported.
  • Accommodation solutions: joint work, alongside housing providers and other partners, is needed to find innovative solutions at pace and at scale. This could include discussing possible developments around new construction, addressing second home challenges and potential changes to national policy such as around the interface between benefits and housing access

Accommodation and safeguarding checks

As highlighted above, expectations of – and risk to - councils must be set out clearly and quickly, particularly around expectations around both initial and ongoing safeguarding and housing checks, and these placed in the existing statutory frameworks. It needs to be clear who and how sponsors will not receive the thank you payment if they are subsequently deemed unsafe.

Councils also need clear guidance on the next steps are 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 clarity on what and how arrivals can be re-matched with a different sponsor if a placement breaks down. There needs to be a way of quickly routing guests back into the Homes for Ukraine scheme and finding new sponsors.

Confirmation is also urgently needed on whether those coming to the UK under the Ukraine Family Scheme can move across to the sponsor route to avoid becoming homeless, with councils receive funding for both schemes.

Councils are raising concerns on the pace of 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’ 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 routes into government to flag systemic issues around safeguarding or housing checks and be enabled to share practice to find innovative solutions.

Data

Councils are reporting significant issues with the data quality and access with concern around duplication and missing information. This is leading to extra work for local authorities, such as, data cleansing. At the moment, the data councils are receiving is under the Homes for Ukraine scheme only. 

Including top line data at a regional and national on numbers of arrivals across all arrival routes and where they are settling which would help councils plan in terms of scale of arrival. This data would help councils understand where they need to focus their efforts regarding safeguarding, accommodation checks and ensuring new arrivals have the support they need as they settle into their new communities.

The data does not include any indication of individuals or families with care, disability or other vulnerabilities. Councils need to receive any data on needs, particularly around care and health needs, to ensure the sponsor accommodation is suitable and specific needs met locally. We welcome that data sharing permissions from individuals and families need to be secured from the outset.

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.

Homelessness

Councils are already reporting families presenting as homeless via the family visa route, with numbers expected to increase. The LGA recently published a survey of Homelessness Presentations by Ukrainian Arrivals 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.

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 should receive information, data and funding for both schemes.

Councils will have a crucial role in providing accommodation for homeless families, ensuring integration and access to local services. There is also no funding available for people arriving under the Family scheme.

Confirmation from the Government is needed on whether visa route families can move across to the sponsor route to avoid becoming homeless. Councils stand ready to help those if moving across to the sponsorship route is possible, but councils will need additional funding for this.  

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.

New arrivals need to be able to be re-matched with a different sponsor if a sponsorship breaks down to ensure families can swiftly move to other accommodation so they can rebuild their lives in their new communities. We are also discussing with government whether it would be possible to match new arrivals through the Family Visa Scheme if they cannot stay with their family with sponsors registered under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. 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. 

School places

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.

Unaccompanied children

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.

There has been some confusion on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with the Homes for Ukraine government visa helpline advising that 16-year-olds can take part in the scheme with parental permission – this is not the case and must be made clear.

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.

Funding

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.

Current concerns we are hearing from councils is that that the £10,500 is only for one year whereas integration needs are likely to be longer term, as recognised in other schemes. As previously mentioned, we are concerned that the £10,500 would not be able to cover follow-up accommodation checks if they are required.

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.

We would also welcome urgent work on clarifying what is the role of – and funding for - port authorities in welcoming new arrivals.

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. Councils are already flagging issues with access to translation 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.

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

laura.johnson@local.gov.uk