Benefit Delays For Ukrainian Refugees Leave British Families Turning To Crowdfunding
Some Ukrainian refugees have faced long delays in claiming Universal Credit
A Labour MP has branded delays "unacceptable and dangerous" after the wait for benefits payments to Ukrainian refugees has put financial strain on families.
Long delays for Universal Credit payments to the refugees have left families in financial difficulty leading to accusations the government have “not lived up” to their promises.
Ukrainian refugees living with host families in the UK are entitled to benefits, including Universal Credit and child benefit, while British hosts have been offered a £350-a-month payment to help cover their extra household costs.
Under the current system, there is a standard five-week wait for Universal Credit payments, but a growing number of families have been left waiting extended periods, with some taking to public fundraising to help cover expenses for their guests.
Craig and Katie Stritch from Bristol have already raised over £2,500 for their guest, Jennie, a Ukrainian student who fled the country following Russia’s invasion and arrived in the UK in mid-April.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, Craig said Jennie had her first meeting with a Department of Work and Pensions adviser in early May, but had still not received any funds despite repeated promises they would “escalate” her case.
“She's more than a little frustrated, she is feeling incredibly helpless and doesn't really know what to do or where to turn. She's relied heavily on us since she arrived, which we are happy to do, but from our point of view she arrived with a rucksack and a couple of pairs of clothes, so we've been helping there, she arrived with no toiletries, so we have been helping there. We've been doing everything we can to support her because unfortunately she is not getting any support anywhere else.”
The couple said they had launched the crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of getting her back on her feet after both her University and student accommodation were destroyed by Russian rocket attacks.
“Rather than us taking the money to cover ourselves, we bought her a laptop for £500 which we had agreed with her beforehand, but the other money from the crowdfunder has gone directly to her. So in a way we are almost providing her with the UC ourselves,” he said.
“I've just transferred her another £200 today, and that's on top of the stuff that's coming from us directly. So we are passing it straight to her and we are just taking the hit.”
He added: “But there are plenty of people in the exact same position as us. Some go to their first Universal Credit session on the Monday and get the money by the Friday, but others are waiting like us.
Stritch said that after a six week wait, they eventually received the £350-per-month provided to hosts to help with additional costs, but said the "heavily delayed" payment meant they were still behind on payments, and added that others had been waiting since late March without yet receiving any payments.
"There are some people who unfortunately haven't received a single penny," he added. "No Universal Credit and none of the £350 payments at all, and they've been waiting three or four months."
Julia*, who also sponsored a Ukrainian refugee and her two children, said she had also faced problems with the Department, and that after the five week wait for Universal Credit, the family were not provided with their child benefit payments, leaving them in “significant” financial difficulties.
“We received the welcome and support payments on time, but with our guests not being paid fully or on time, it has left us with a real strain,” she said.
“Our bills have gone up with three extra people living here, and that’s on top of all the other rises in the prices of things. It’s starting to become a real struggle. We are happy to make sacrifices, we knew we would have to do that when we signed up, because we really wanted to help, but we are going into our savings now, and we hadn’t budgeted for them not getting their money.
“We’ve been lucky, and our guests are wonderful, so we wouldn’t change our minds if we had to go back in time, but yes, it’s been harder than we expected."
She added: “It’s also very hard for the family. The mother speaks excellent English, so she knows what is going on and she feels really upset about it all, but she’s not being a burden and neither are her kids. It’s just the job centre not doing their jobs properly or the government not giving them the support they need to do the job properly.
“They shouldn’t be boasting about this big humanitarian project if they are going to put all the stress on our shoulders and sort of not live up to their end of the deal.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP Ellie Reeves told PoliticsHome the government were failing to tackle the “unacceptable and dangerous delays” for payments after raising the case of a constituent who was forced to use a food bank because of the wait for her benefit payments.
"At my local food bank I met a Ukrainian mother and her two-year-old son. They were queuing for food and nappies because the five-week wait for universal credit had left them with absolutely nothing,” she said.
"After fleeing the horrors of war and in the midst of trying to rebuild their lives how can they be expected to wait over a month for support?
"Despite raising this with the Home Secretary and calling for immediate support the government are failing to tackle the unacceptable and dangerous delays Ukrainian refugees are facing."
A government spokesperson said: "Everyone coming to the UK through our Ukrainian schemes has an immediate right to employment, access to job support and benefits - including Universal Credit.
"They can apply for Universal Credit from day one and no one has to wait five weeks for their first payment as early payments can be made. People in the Homes for Ukraine scheme will also be entitled to a £200 interim payment, administered by the local authority, and local authorities also have discretion to top-up or further support guests with interim or additional payments."
*Name changed at interviewee's request
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe