Ukrainian refugees have suffered enough – they need more support to avoid ending up homeless and destitute
It is tragic to see the ongoing situation in Ukraine as the war continues to rage on.
The actions of Vladimir Putin and his regime continue to be tragically immoral, targeting innocent civilians, hospitals and refuge routes. Through the darkness, however, it is heartening that so many people across the United Kingdom have opened their homes to refugees. With more than 70,500 Ukrainians having arrived in the UK so far and a total of 125,000 visas granted, many innocent lives have been saved from the atrocities in Ukraine.
It would be naïve to assume that this operation would be without challenges. Many of the sponsors may not have anticipated the scale of commitment, had changing circumstances, or were only prepared to provide short term aid. These scenarios naturally lead to a breakdown in relationships between the refugees and their sponsors, imperatively leading to tensions.
Having heard the reports of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless and destitute, it is crucial that the local councils and the government coordinate a response to avoid such situations.
The point at which landlords realise they are no longer able to host the refugee is often too late
There may only be a very few cases at this stage, but this figure will no doubt rise as the war against Russia continues for longer than originally expected. Local government need to have a backup operation in place for such cases. whether this be emergency accommodation ready in a hall or hotel places.
We must remember that these people are guests to our country through no fault of their own. They have been forced from their homes and they should not have to experience further distress, particularly when many speak little to no English.
Additionally, the topic of Houses of Multiple Occupancies (HMOs) needs addressing urgently. At present, the Home Office has only advised local authorities to be lenient towards the registration of HMOs. This leaves room for each local authority to interpret the advice differently. Consequently, the definition of HMOs are dependent on each council’s stance with reference to Ukrainian refugees.
Many of those who have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes with goodwill are now realising that they will consequently have to register the property as a HMO, costing around £1,400 initially with a further cost of £1,000 per annum.
This, understandably, puts many people off as they are not prepared nor were they expecting this financial implication when they originally signed up to host. The point at which landlords realise they are no longer able to host the refugee is often too late and they have already made the journey to the UK, leaving them in a new country with nowhere to live.
It is therefore essential that the government provides clarity on the rules as opposed to mere guidance which can be interpreted differently from case to case. I have been involved with a case in Harrow which has reached a stalemate whilst the proprietor and council navigate the situation.
The government needs to establish and commit to a law regarding Ukrainian refugees which would allow HMO registration to be waived due to the non-profiteering nature of the cases and therefore avoiding unnecessary and unfair confusion.
There should be support systems in place so that those from Ukraine can have somewhere to turn to in instances where they are facing difficulties, particularly with the relationships of their sponsors. This should be a free service, in both Ukrainian and English, where they can seek advice, resources and support should they need it.
I will continue to work with the relevant ministers to ensure that refugees in the constituency of Harrow East receive the appropriate care they deserve throughout these troubling times.
Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East.
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