Eddie Hughes – 2022 Statement on Homes for Ukraine Scheme

The statement made by Eddie Hughes, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in the House of Commons on 31 March 2022.

President Putin’s bloody invasion is a barbaric and unprovoked attack on the people of Ukraine, who are fighting a daily battle for freedom. The UK has stood shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine at every stage of the conflict, including sending extensive military supplies months before the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. We are steeled to stand with Ukraine for the long haul.

In this country there has been an outpouring of public support for the Ukrainian people, and we have matched the generosity of the British public with an ambitious humanitarian offer to Ukrainians who wish to come to the UK to escape the conflict. As hon. Members will know, since the Home Office opened and expanded the Ukrainian family scheme and my Department launched the Homes for Ukraine scheme with our Home Office colleagues, both schemes have received thousands upon thousands of applications from people willing to open their heart and their home to a new guest.

We have balanced the need to move rapidly with the equal need to get the Homes for Ukraine scheme right. The visa application process opened on Friday 18 March, since when we have seen the first arrivals come to the UK. Members on both sides of the House are as invested as we are in making the scheme as efficient and effective as possible. We are minimising bureaucratic foot-dragging and cutting unnecessary red tape, while making sure people are set up in the best possible situation to start a life in the UK and to access the right local services and support.

The scheme will be a success only if local and national Government work as one, so we are providing councils with £10,500 per guest to help with all the support they will need. We have been working with the Local Government Association and individual councils across the country to fine-tune the scheme’s practicalities and logistics. As the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said, we will keep things under review to ensure that local government has and gets what it needs. We are also working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we have a consistent offer across the country. Some 4 million Ukrainians have been displaced by this bloody and unjust war so far. The UK will continue to respond to the gravity of the conflict and we will continue to work with Members of the House to open up our communities to Ukrainians in the weeks and months ahead.

Mike Amesbury

Nearly 150,000 people have signed up to sponsor Ukrainian refugees in a testament to the generous spirit of our nation and regions, yet that generosity risks being wasted because the figures released confirm that just 2,700 visas have been granted by the Government under the scheme so far. Of course, visas being granted are not the same as refugees arriving here after fleeing for their lives from the bullets, missiles and bombs. Can the Minister tell the House how many refugees have arrived in the UK through the scheme and what has gone wrong so far in getting them here?

After the issue with visas, things are even less clear. There remain real concerns among councils that have not been addressed. How will they know when refugees have arrived in their authority and require services? Proactive data sharing is simply not good enough and safeguarding is falling down. Do the checks on sponsor families need to have been fully completed before a family can begin travelling to the UK? Does the £10,500 for councils, which the Minister mentioned, cover refugees only in this scheme or in the family visa scheme too?

There are real fears of a homelessness crisis if sponsorships break down. As reported yesterday by the Local Government Association, nearly 150 Ukrainians have already presented themselves to councils as homeless having fled the conflict to stay with family members in the UK who have no room. Can the Minister tell me and the House what urgent guidance and support his Department is giving to councils on those cases?

The Government must now take an active role in matching sponsors to refugees, otherwise the generosity of people who want to help will be wasted. The British people have stepped up in Ukraine’s hour of need; it is clear that the Government urgently need to do the same.

Eddie Hughes

I think that the Government are acting urgently. It is testament to the efforts of people in an incredible civil service who are prepared to work very long hours, seven days a week and to pivot from their previous day jobs to move in an agile fashion to deal with the trauma that that country is facing and ensure that the maximum number of people have visas granted and can have a secure and safe home in this country. It is disappointing, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect tremendously, thinks that the Government and the civil service are not responding urgently.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a figure of 150,000; I believe that the number of people who have expressed an interest and are prepared to open up their homes is closer to 200,000. [Interruption.] It is slightly frustrating to answer one question and have Opposition Members race ahead to the three or four others that have been asked. Patience would be a virtue for everybody involved in this process—at least for the sake of this urgent question. Mr Speaker, do you not think it would be nice for them to wait for the answer before they get too carried away?

How will councils know? We have a matching process and once the sponsor has been matched with the guest online with the form, councils will be alerted so that they know that a match has been made for a sponsor in their area. They can then begin the process of preparation immediately.

Will checks need to be completed fully before people travel? Inasmuch as once the visa is granted, checks will already have started, we will already have started to investigate whether there has been criminality on the part of either party. We need to make absolutely sure that we are reassured of the safety on both sides of the equation—of the person travelling here and of the people opening up their homes. Those checks will be carried out initially and then further checks will be carried out by the receiving authority once it has been notified of the match.

Once the authority has been notified, it will be expected to go out and inspect the property to make sure it is appropriate for such people’s needs, and begin the process of further checks, as required. For example, if there are children or vulnerable adults in the households that are coming, a further enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check will be required.

With regards to the money, the £10,500 is for the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Obviously, for the rest of the elements of this scheme, we are making a very generous offer in that people who arrive in the UK will be allowed to work and claim benefits immediately, so that they can begin to integrate fully here.

Finally, on the 150 homeless people the hon. Gentleman mentioned, he will know that I, as the Minister for homelessness, have a very keen interest in this. We will be investigating to ensure that we completely understand what has led to such a situation. As a Government, with the charities and all involved—and MPs have a role in this—we need to make sure people understand that the most appropriate, safe and reliable route is that prescribed by the Government.