Dozens of Ukrainian refugees in Oxford have been registered homeless, the Oxford Mail has uncovered.
The Mail submitted numerous FOI requests to councils in Oxfordshire, revealing that 31 of the 2,143 refugees matched with sponsor homes under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in the county are now registered as statutory homeless, over two-thirds of whom are in Oxford.
This follows previous criticism of the scheme, introduced by the government in March of last year to assist individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring Ukrainians to safety in the UK following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In response to the request, Oxfordshire councils reported that at least 10 family groups are among the 31 Ukrainians registered homeless in the county. These groups include children and teenagers.
Statutory homelessness designates a situation in which a council is unable to obtain long-term accommodation for a household after 56 days. The status ends when such accommodation is secured.
Kateryna Bondarchuk, who fled Ukraine one week after the Russian invasion in February 2022, cited the high cost of rent as a problem for Ukrainian refugees attempting to find housing in the private rental sector. She said: “I think a lot of Ukrainians are homeless in Oxfordshire because it’s very difficult to rent a house when you don’t have a credit history, and your salary is not high enough for renting.”
The Homes for Ukraine scheme aimed to match Ukrainian refugees with household sponsors in the UK. Sponsors committed to hosting a refugee for at least six months, receiving payments from the government of £350 a month for up to 12 months after the beginning of the sponsorship.
Bondarchuk highlighted other problems for Ukrainian refugees attempting to find housing after their sponsorship had finished. “Some landlords don’t want to rent their property to Ukrainians because they have visas which only last three years,” she said.
“Sponsors have been receiving £350 a month and it’s so little, especially if you host a big family. If the sponsors were paid more, they would host Ukrainian refugees for more than a year.”
These findings are the latest symptom in a string relating to the government’s handling of Ukrainian refugees. Previously, Robina Qureshi, the head of Positive Action in Housing, the charity which organises the longest-running refugee hosting programme in the UK, said that the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme amounted to a “gimmick”, and had given people “false hope”. She cited the “tortuous and confusing” bureaucracy involved in the scheme, which made it inaccessible to many refugees.
The Times reported on 29th March 2022 that fewer than one in ten applications to accommodate Ukrainian refugees in British homes had been approved, amid fears that thousands of sponsorship offers would be wasted.
Local councils in England and Wales have a statutory obligation to prevent homelessness. Due to the politically sensitive nature of refugee status, the question now arises as to whether homeless Ukrainian refugees will be given priority attention over the existing homeless population in Oxford and the wider region.
Cabinet member for housing at Oxford City Council, Councillor Linda Smith said: “[F]or those in Oxford, we provide the same homeless prevention support as anyone with the right to live here.”
“There is support available from the council and local refugee organisations for those looking to rent, providing advice and practical support with things like contracts, references and understanding the rental market in Oxford.”