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Plan To Double Ukraine Refugee Support Payments To £700 Has Been Shelved

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Oct 12, 2022

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Ministers are not proceeding with proposals to increase financial support (Alamy)

John Johnston

@johnjohnstonmi

6 min read

Exclusive: Government is not currently going ahead with a proposal to double payments to UK households hosting Ukrainian refugees to £700, despite hopes that it would encourage people to prolong participation in the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Under the scheme which began in March, participating UK households are expected to provide free accommodation to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Putin's invasion for six months, and are entitled to a payment of £350 per month to help cover additional expenses.

Former refugee minister Lord Harrington had lobbied the government to double the payments to £700 for those willing to continue hosting refugees beyond the initial six month period after some households said they may not be able to afford to participate for longer. There has also been concern that refugees may struggle to find affordable housing elsewhere and are at risk of becoming homeless.

But PoliticsHome now understands that the plans, which were in the initial stages of being drawn up by officials during Boris Johnson's final months in government, have not moved forward despite pressure from some of Liz Truss's Treasury ministers.

Harrington, who resigned shortly before Truss became Prime Minister, believed the "argument was won" over increasing the payments when he stood down.

It is understood the proposals would have required additional funding to cover the increase in payments which could have proved difficult as the government scrambles to pay for sweeping tax cuts.

A government spokesperson did not deny work on the plans had halted, saying instead they were "exploring options with our sponsors to ensure they are best supported to do so".

Over 130,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK since the flagship scheme was launched in the wake of Vladimir Putin's invasion of the country.

Today Truss is set to hold a call with G7 leaders, which will also be attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where she is expected to urge them to "stay the course" in support for Ukraine.

Labour has called ministers "shameful" for not going ahead with the proposal after council leaders and hosts said the increased financial support could help reduce the risk of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees in the UK.

Earlier this year, Harrington said the increased payments would ultimately save money because of the large costs required to find alternative accomodation for refugees presenting as homeless if they were unable to stay with their British hosts.

The then-refugee minister said it was "perfectly reasonable" to increase the payments to help cover rising household bills stemming from the cost-of-living crisis.

"The costs…they're paying may be a big chunk of rent themselves, the mortgage payments have gone up and everything, and I think it's perfectly reasonable, in my view, to increase the amount that we're paying them."

"I suspect some of them will need an extra budget to do it, but I again, I can aruge to the Treasury – it's my job to say: 'Well, you actually save money, because people then are not becoming homeless'."Council leaders had already warned there was a significant risk that many Ukrainian refugees would be left homeless when they had to leave their hosts because of already overburdened local housing supply.

After stepping down from the role, Harrington told Times Radio he had discussed the scheme with both Sunak and Truss, adding he believed the "argument was won" for the higher payments.

"I have had conversations about the programme generally, but I know whoever is elected as the new Prime Minister will make sure that the funding is in place there to do it," he said.

"I'm very optimistic about that. I believe the argument is won."

News that the Treasury is not currently going forward with the payment increase has prompted criticism from hosts who said the money would have been a "lifeline" during winter, when energy costs and mortgage payments are expected to rise.

One host in the South West of England told PoliticsHome: "It's a short-sighted move that piles further pressure onto hosts who have been repeatedly taken for granted by this government after we stepped up to help.

"It's not even a big amount that was being proposed, but it would have been a lifeline for hosts who did this out of the goodness of their hearts but are not very well off."

Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it was "absolutely crucial" that hosts received further financial support.

"We are deeply concerned at the growing number of Ukrainians presenting as homeless to their council, and in particular the significant rise in the number of those who arrived through the Homes for Ukraine scheme," he said.

Jamieson, who had previously supported the planned increase in support, added: "As we approach the end of the initial six-month sponsorships, it is clear that increasing numbers are ending. It is absolutely crucial that support to sponsors is enhanced as inflation and energy costs increase so new or existing hosts are encouraged to sponsor in the longer term.

"Councils will continue to do all they can to help those who are owed homelessness duties, but need urgent solutions to pressing housing needs in the short and the long term across all the scheme that welcome new arrivals to the UK."

Sarah Owen, shadow homelessness and rough sleeping minister said it would be "shameful" if Ukrainian families ended up homeless in Britain after fleeing Russia.

"We are facing the very real prospect of a homelessness emergency this winter. It would be shameful if Ukrainian families who fled the the bombs and bullets of Putin find themselves homeless in Britain," she told PoliticsHome.

"The government has had months to prepare for this but we still haven't seen a proper plan to avoid a crisis.

"British households showed amazing generosity in opening their homes to desperate people in need. The government has already squandered much of that generosity. It cannot keep failing to play its part."

A government spokesperson said: "We are grateful to the British public for opening up their communities to the people of Ukraine and the generosity they have shown when we know families and public services are facing pressure. Over 131,700 people have been welcomed into homes across the country and the overwhelming majority are settled into accommodation."

They added: "The majority of sponsors want to continue hosting for longer than six months, and we are exploring options with our sponsors to ensure they are best supported to do so."

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