NACCOM and 15 of its member organisations that run hosting projects across the UK have written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Michael Gove, urging the Government to introduce further vital safeguards and measures to ensure the safe and effective implementation of the Homes for Ukraine scheme, a mass hosting initiative launched by the Government in March to provide a pathway to safety for people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In a letter sent on 22nd April, NACCOM and co-signatories, including national hosting charities Hope at Home and Refugees at Home, express serious ongoing concerns about aspects of the Homes for Ukraine scheme that we believe undermine the protection and sanctuary the UK country seeks to offer Ukrainian refugees and put people involved at risk of harm.
The organisations also raise concerns about the huge burden placed on under-resourced delivery organisations and particularly Local Authorities, who are expected to take a leading role in implementing hosting placements and putting support in place for refugee guests.
The letter reads:
“Today we are writing to you as 16 organisations to express our ongoing concerns about aspects of the Homes for Ukraine scheme that we believe undermine the protection and sanctuary this country seeks to offer Ukrainian refugees.
For many years, members of the No Accommodation Network (NACCOM) have been operating hosting schemes that enable people within the asylum and immigration system to find the safety and stability they need to move on from homelessness and destitution and rebuild their lives.
Our experience tells us that for hosting to provide an effective pathway to safety, the right safeguarding procedures, in-placement support, and move-on support must be in place. A hosting arrangement will only be positive for all involved if the right time and consideration has been given to these pillars, particularly as many people in need of hosting may have experienced trauma, conflict, or persecution.
We appreciate the challenges of setting up a UK-wide hosting scheme at pace. Nonetheless, we believe that the following support and safeguarding needs must be addressed urgently to avoid significant risks to these efforts, and harm to the individuals involved.”
The co-signatories go on to outline some key aspects of the scheme that warrant improvement, such as the matching process between hosts and guests, safeguarding of guests, the level, type and access to support available to both hosts and guests, and issues with the Government’s provision of wider routes to safety, followed by recommendations that NACCOM and its members believe would improve the scheme and ensure its safe and effective running.
These include urging the Government to:
➡️ Regulate Homes for Ukraine matching services and take immediate steps to monitor and close all suspicious matching sites.
➡️ Work with Councils to ensure that pre-arrival checks are carried out as a matter of necessity, which will include the requirement that Councils have timely information about matches made in their area.
➡️ Ensure there is clear guidance and support for Councils to deal with a match that does not pass its pre-arrival or in-placement safeguarding checks and ensure that Ukrainian refugees are supported into alternative safe, temporary accommodation.
➡️ Issue clear guidance to participating charities and organisations in the instance that the second phase of the Homes for Ukraine scheme is rolled out to ensure that they have a clear and robust approach to safeguarding and risk assessments.
On in-placement support for guests:
➡️ Ensure that Councils have sufficient resources and support to enable them to onboard at pace suitably qualified people to provide adequate in-placement support to guests or work formally in partnership with local organisations with experience of doing this work.
➡️ Ensure that each person coming through Homes for Ukraine receives the offer of an initial health check and assistance to register with a GP.
➡️ Ensure that Councils have sufficient resources and support to meet local demand for specialist health support.
➡️ Clarify that, in the instance of a breakdown in placement, Ukrainians will not be at a disadvantage if they must move out of the area that their original sponsor resides in, with wrap-around support funding following the individual.
On in-placement support for hosts:
➡️ Ensure that all participating hosts undergo training or an induction before starting their placement.
➡️ Ensure that Councils have sufficient resources and support to onboard at pace suitably qualified people to provide adequate in-placement support to hosts or work formally in partnership with local organisations with experience of doing this work.
On move-on support for guests:
➡️ Develop a clear move-on pathway for guests before the end of the placement, enabling guests to access relevant housing options, and if appropriate, lodge an asylum claim.
➡️ Conduct a mapping exercise to understand the housing options for expected need. This should include guidance developed in partnership with the refugee sector, Ukrainian community groups and Councils, with an agreed set of protocols tailored to the local context
On reforming the asylum system:
➡️ Commit to a refugee resettlement programme supporting at least 10,000 people each year, that would work alongside Community Sponsorship and hosting projects, whilst still fulfilling the Government’s commitment to the International Refugee Convention.
➡️ Work with statutory agencies, the voluntary sector, local communities, people seeking asylum and refugees in this country to design a system that is fair, just, proportionate, and operationally sound.
➡️ Create legislation that will address the challenges of the immigration and asylum system without punishing people seeking safety in the UK.
The letter concludes:
“The current lack of clarity surrounding the scheme’s safeguarding procedures, in-placement support, and move-on support available, we are concerned about the negative and potentially harmful outcomes that the current scheme could have for both guests and hosts.”
The DLUHC has yet to respond.