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Refugees Minister inundated with calls after LBC uncovers Ukraine visa scheme 'data loss'

5 April 2022, 18:06 | Updated: 7 April 2022, 09:13

Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington was inundated with calls.
Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington was inundated with calls. Picture: LBC/Alamy/Facebook

By Charlotte Lynch

Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington was inundated with questions from frustrated callers after LBC uncovered a "data loss" in the Ukraine visa scheme.

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British hosts who applied for the Homes for Ukraine scheme on the day it launched have claimed their data has been lost by the Government, sparking fears Ukrainian refugees will become homeless whilst waiting for a UK visa.

The claims were put to the Refugees Minister, who said he did not know about any "data loss", during Iain Dale's show.

It comes after dozens of kindhearted British hosts who applied to sponsor refugees fleeing the warzone have complained that, almost 20 days after they completed their application, they've heard nothing back.

The Homes for Ukraine scheme opened for applications on 18th March, but people who submitted their details on that day say they're still awaiting a response, despite some success for people who applied later.

Annie Lentner said the family she is sponsoring are set to become homeless in Poland from Thursday.

She told LBC: "My family are due to be kicked out of their temporary accommodation on Thursday, so obviously this mother is very anxious about that. She has a seven-year-old and a 15-year-old girl and she said they have nowhere safe to stay after that.

"We are anxious over here for their safety. I can't imagine how she must be feeling."

Ms Letner added: "We got one visa through for her daughter today, but her daughter can't travel alone. We desperately need these other two visas to be granted."

Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington said he was unaware of any data loss when the claims were put to him live on Iain Dale's LBC show.

"I don't know about the data loss," he said.

"I'm not trying to hide it from you, but I have not heard of a data loss. But I have heard of it not working quickly enough, as I've said."

Iain Dale pressed the minister: "You haven't had any data loss reported to you?"

"No data loss reported to me," he replied, adding there may have been some "glitches" but whatever happened the system has just "not worked".

He added it's his aim to make the process much faster and more simple.

Caller Lauren, an NHS nurse, told Lord Harrington she is "devastated" as she's heard "nothing" since applying on the 18th March.

"We are all traumatised with this process," she said.

"Do I apply again? Do I scrap the one on the 18th march? We don't know where to go. I'm thinking I might fly out to Poland on Friday just to comfort this family."

Lord Harrington, who asked LBC for Lauren's number, was then grilled by Iain for trying to follow it up.

"See she's another one from the 18th of March," he said. "Clearly, there has been something that has gone wrong for people who applied on that day, the first day. That is coming through crystal clear."

He added: "You can't take every single person's number and follow that up!"

Lord Harrington pledged to find out what's gone wrong, adding he is "not making any excuses".

On a Facebook group which seeks to match refugees with hosts, one homeowner wrote: "[Waiting] 17 days here and the family are being evicted from their temporary accommodation in Poland on Thursday so we're really worried".

Another wrote: "Applied on 18th, she's got a valid passport, not sure why it takes so long... It is exhausting and stressful, checking emails every 2hrs.... But nothing yet."

Dozens more members of the same group claim they applied on the 18th of March and still haven't heard back.

One frustrated host wrote on Tuesday that she had been waiting 18 days, which suggests she applied on the 18th of March.

She said: "Day 18 for me too. Multiple emails to MP and ‘escalations’ with absolutely no movement. So frustrating when others are getting results and they applied 24th/25th."

Maryse Haywood, who has applied to host a Ukrainian family in her home in North Yorkshire, told LBC she never received a confirmation email after applying for the scheme on the 18th of March.

She told LBC other host families she's spoken to have heard of a potential glitch that took place on the first day of the scheme. She said: "I didn't have any understanding as to when it was going to be processed, or if indeed it was going to be processed."

She says she's now heard back after a lengthy delay. She said: "I started the application on the 18th of March for a grandmother. I started the visas for the mum and granddaughter on the Friday night [19th].

"I received visas for the granddaughter and mum on the 31st of March but it took 18 days for the grandmother's to come through, and her's was the first application I submitted on the 18th of March.

"It seems UK Visas and Immigration have told people on the helpline that fit to travel documents have gone missing, but they weren't able to trace where the issue had come from in the first place.

"It's been frustrating from beginning to end, and there's a massive amount of pressure now worried about our families in Ukraine who are very worried and upset about the length of time this is taking. Some believe they won't get in the UK and we have to reassure them, but we are having to give them that reassurance whilst working blind, we don't have a clue."

When first approached by LBC, the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities refused to deny that application data was lost on the 18th of March.

However, a government spokesperson later said: "We are unaware of any data loss.

"Homes for Ukraine is one of the UK’s fastest and biggest growing visa schemes.

"While the Home Office has made changes to speed up visa processing, we know that progress has not been sufficient and many applicants are still waiting for decisions.

"We have streamlined the process so valid passport holders do not have to attend in-person appointments before arriving in the UK, simplified our forms and boosted caseworker numbers, while ensuring vital security checks are carried out.

"We continue to speed up visa processing across both schemes, with around 30,000 visa issued and thousands more expected to come through these uncapped routes."