It’s been six months since the start of the war in Ukraine. According to Home Office statistics published on 23 August, 173 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Tandridge District, while 216 visas have been issued from 234 applications.
The the war may have fallen from the front pages, but the stalemate in Ukraine leaves our guests in a difficult situation. Many will have been hoping to have returned to their country by now, and a challenging future could lie ahead of them in the UK if or when their hosts decide they can no longer offer them somewhere to stay.
The original Homes for Ukraine scheme asked residents to commit to at least six months of hosting, and the ‘thank you’ payment of £350 per month is currently only available for up to 12 months, even if hosts are happy to let visitors stay longer. A recent Office of National Statistics survey, commissioned by Refugees minister Lord Harrington, found the majority of hosts say rising living costs are impacting the support they are able to give, and Harrington has lobbied the Treasury to increase the payment to £700 for those who host refugees for more than six months.
Alex Severn, from Dormansland, is hosting a 20-year-old guest who has found a job, and is working towards an English language qualification.
“She’s looking at bridging courses, and hopes to start university next year. We have a potential exit strategy, but not all hosts are in the same position. They see the financial support coming to an end and are thinking ‘what happens next?’”
Alex recognises that, although their hosting story is positive, other guests have financial worries.
“Our guest is an awesome, proactive young lady, but she is also here on her own. For those with children the Universal Credit payments don’t go far, and finding a job can lead to issues around unaffordable childcare or having to rely on their host to help.”
Recent government data shows that 1,335 Ukrainian households have registered as homeless since the Homes for Ukraine scheme began, and there are concerns that this could rise sharply when the initial six months of agreed hosting comes to an end.
Claire Dunn, from Woldingham, has been working closely with local hosts and their Ukrainian visitors, and has four guests staying with her. Lidiya says she and her three children have been made to feel extremely welcome:
“It’s not easy to let strangers into your home, but Claire and her family have been amazing. They helped me apply for everything I need, arranged school places for my children, and are always supportive. I had never heard of Surrey before, but it’s a wonderful place to live, with people who smile and say good morning!”
The government is now asking existing hosts to consider allowing their guests to stay longer, but Claire believes more needs to be done to address the longer-term issue:
“I understand the practicality of asking hosts to commit to longer stays, but this doesn’t work towards independent living, which many guests would now like. To do this, they need to find employment with an income which allows them to rent a suitable property. Many have found work already, but not necessarily at an income level that relates to renting in Tandridge. Without this, the pressure on housing benefit and council housing will increase.”
The shortage of council housing is already a sensitive subject in the district, and many private landlords are reluctant to rent to those on benefits or without three months of payslips.
“We need to change how landlords see both Homes for Ukraine and existing Tandridge residents benefit tenants, and encourage renting to them.”
The National Residential Landlords Association is looking to encourage landlords to rent to refugees and benefit tenants by publicising positive experiences of their members.
Tandridge District Council gave this statement:
"A range of support is available for Ukrainian guests unable to stay with their host families longer than six months under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
We encourage hosts to plan ahead and give at least two months' notice if they intend to end their hosting relationship with their guest, to enable us to find a suitable match with another host, in line with the government's re-matching process. Guests who can't be re-matched to a suitable host will be referred to our Homelessness Prevention Service, which will help them find alternative accommodation.
We also help guests who have expressed an interest in privately renting and many guests intend to return to Ukraine when it is safe to do so. Details of all support are available at tandridge.gov.uk/ukraine."
MP for East Surrey Claire Coutinho said:
“I’ve been bowled over by the generosity of people supporting Ukrainian refugees in East Surrey. We don’t know how long Putin’s war will last, so it’s vital we have a long-term strategy for how we continue to support Ukrainians in the UK.
We need to find ongoing housing, employment and education solutions and I continue to raise this with ministers.”
Another matter requiring urgent attention is the provision of adequate support for guests who are struggling with post-trauma mental health issues. In Tandridge, a local Ukrainian guest, who is a trained counsellor, is providing free sessions to several adults and teenagers, but providing this on a larger scale is likely to become necessary, at a time when NHS mental health services are already under massive strain.
If you are a local businesses who can help Ukrainian guests find work please email email@example.com.
If you are a Tandridge landlords with property you would like to use to help, please email Ukraine@tandridge.gov.uk.