HFU0001

 

Written evidence submitted by Hampshire County Council

 

Hampshire County Council welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and their ongoing inquiry into the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The County Council hopes you find this supplementary written evidence helpful. The County Council looks forward to seeing the final findings and recommendations of this Inquiry.  

 

Introduction

Hampshire continues to host the third highest number of Ukrainian guests.  As of the 1 November 2023, 3,335 guests have arrived in Hampshire under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, which includes over 1,600 families.  Working collaboratively with 11 district and borough authorities, the County Council have facilitated and supported the integration and independence of a significant number of Ukrainian guests, enabling many to move into the private and rented housing sectors. However, what is significant to this Inquiry is that there are still 1,892 guests residing with hosts in Hampshire.  While it remains unclear if Government will extend the visa scheme and thank you payments, the challenges the scheme brings to all local authorities remains significant.  

 

  1. Homelessness

1.1             Currently there are no Ukrainians in Hampshire in emergency accommodation.  The fund has supported over 1,440 guests towards independent living.  The fund has enabled incentives for landlords, rental deposits, purchasing of white goods and furniture for unfurnished properties, bringing properties back into use and, the development of specialist project management roles to co-ordinate the complexities of the rental sector for Ukrainains.  The extent of homelessness for this cohort should funding cease will be exacerbated by the severe shortage of available affordable housing in Hampshire, with guests in most cases unable to meet the financial demands of unstainable rents and excessive up-front deposits.  Ukrainian families will have no choice but to move into emergency accommodation to remain local to where they have settled in employment and their children have settled into school and childcare or, move out of Hampshire to find more sustainable affordable housing options. This in turn will increase pressure on other local authorities. As a last resort many guests may be forced to return to Ukraine and face a dangerous and uncertain future with the on-going conflict. The tariff has currently stopped these issues coming to the fore, but the Inquiry should not underestimate the detrimental consequences of removing the funding.

 

1.2             District partners have been raising their significant concerns about the lack of clarity in relation to the schemes future funding for several months. This lack of clarity means they are unable to plan with any confidence to deal with what would be an unprecedented level of homelessness across Hampshire. Potential predicted homelessness figures of 1,892 will also continue to rise if Government continues to issue visas whilst deciding funding for the scheme should be stopped at the end of March 2024. There remains a constant, steady inflow of guests from Ukraine. The constant pressure this brings both at County and district level is further added to as all local authorities simultaneously look to support and mange other refugee programs, and ever-increasing numbers of asylum seekers, both adult and children.

 

1.3             If a decision is taken by Government to stop thank you payments at the end of March 2024 when coupled with the current cost-of-living crisis, we believe hosts will very quickly stop their hosting arrangements which will inevitably create upheaval in; up-rooting families, family support networks, employment, impact health and wellbeing and be disruptive socially and mentally for children if required to change schools or return to Ukraine as a result of further re-settlement. Many hosting arrangements are already increasingly fragile and the challenge of retaining current hosts and finding new hosts, continues to be very difficult, despite all involved best efforts. Hampshire along with many other local authorities is experiencing more guests becoming ‘stuck’ with no options outside of their current hosting arrangements.  

 

  1. Human Trafficking and modern-day slavery

2.1             Should funding be stopped some sponsors will continue to host without being in receipt of thank you payments. In these circumstances Hampshire would no longer be required to or, be in a financial position to provide the schemes statutory checks to prevent houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) being created. We would not be able to investigate suspicious applications and undertake checks within hosting arrangements to avoid safeguarding risks to children and adults. This has the potential to allow increased activities connected to human trafficking and modern-day slavery to develop unchecked and could lead to greater demands on children’s and adults’ social care

 

  1. Safeguarding and DBS Checks

3.1             Current required DBS / safeguarding checks would not take place if funding for the scheme is stopped, potentially leaving unaccompanied minors unaccounted for and at high risk of exploitation, and inappropriate hosts being able to offer accommodation to current and future Ukrainian guests.  Currently, Hampshire can assess unaccompanied minors when they arrive in the UK and have well established checks in place to enable their identification, and report instances of unidentified unaccompanied minors whose parents leave their children in the UK to return to Ukraine.

 

3.2             The way in which children are disciplined in Ukrainian families, would in many instances be considered inappropriate in the United Kingdom. The welfare checks in place for children in the scheme would be ceased should the funding be stopped. This would inevitably place a number of children not known to children’s social care at risk of both physical and emotional abuse.

 

3.3             If Government decides to extend thank-you payments, the parallel processes of guests living with hosts whilst awaiting household DBS checks to be completed prior to thank you payments being processed, should be revisited.  Hosts are often being financially disadvantaged due to the time taken to complete DBS checks, in some cases up to 4 months.  Whilst the DBS thank you payments are backdated for a negative result; hosts can be left without the agreed financial support for several months. The impact of this has been further exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.  Of equal measure and concern, is where a positive DBS check is received, and a hosting arrangement is not approved, in which case no payment is made to the host for the period of the guests stay.

 

3.4             Hampshire’s Children Services Enquiry Team have received 10,696 enquiries between 5/4/2022 and 3/11/23.  It is estimated that 45% of these queries have been because of these parallel processes referred to above. These can be broken down into the following categories; DBS (excluding checks): 160 (1.77%), Checks (including DBS): 2844 (31.5%), DBS Complaints: 44 (0.48%), Thank You payments: 4538 (50.26%), Payment Complaints: 97 (1.07%).

 

3.5             Many complaints are aired publicly in the mainstream press and on social media, all of which have the potential to unnecessarily negatively impact on the County Council’s reputation and undermine the very challenging work it is doing very successfully to implement scheme.

 

  1. Data Return

4.1             Time consuming, a duplication of effort and returns littered with errors and inconsistencies. Much of the information requested in the return is already available to the Department of Levelling UP Homes & Communities (DLUHC) and can be found on the Delta section of Foundry system. There are no advanced warnings of questions and inconsistent requests for information have been received for each quarterly return.

 

4.2             Many Delta requests for information has been on data we have not been asked to record, so consequently the existing data cannot be filtered or extracted to meet this ask, this results in extra hours of work to provide DLUHC with information that is not on a consistence basis held. The rationale in asking local authorities to report on back on data they already hold could be indicative of the lack of confidence they have in the quality of their own data sets and systems.

 

  1. DLUHC data

5.1             The quality of data received via the DLUHC is poor and in many cases not accurate, it does not present a clear reflection of the scheme, leading to resource having to be found to cleanse the data provided before it can be used for reporting purposes. Foundry creates hundreds of additional ‘new’ records for individuals who re-submit their visa requests after applications have been refused making it difficult to identify correct family units. It is highly likely that the poor quality of the data provided will mean local authorities have been unable to submit accurate information when making claims for funding. 

 

  1. Community & Integration

6.1             The tariff has enabled over 50 local community and integration initiatives to support Ukrainian guests to be set-up since the scheme commenced. It has allowed guests to receive support through employability workshops, English language development, attend organised ‘drop in’ events across the county, and attend conversational café and clubs. These have all provided significant support to guests while also enabling LAs to substantially reduce the risk of neglect and isolation they would otherwise face.

 

November 2023