Govt Homes for Ukraine helpline giving 'false information' as 'pattern' emerges over 'lost visas'

19 April 2022, 09:14

The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been branded "dysfunctional and useless" by a Government call handler
The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been branded "dysfunctional and useless" by a Government call handler. Picture: Alamy

By Caitlin Hutchison

Traumatised refugees are being given false information about the status of their visa application, a Homes for Ukraine helpline worker has claimed.

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The service has been branded "dysfunctional and useless" by a Government call handler who claims staff have no way to check visa application status.

The whistle-blower, who wanted to remain anonymous, told LBC that staff tell callers "what they want to hear" in a bid to "appease" refugees who are desperate to find out the progress of their application.

Coronavirus contact tracers are among the workers moved onto the Homes for Ukraine service and callers have reported staff mixing up the two helplines when answering the phone.

The whistle-blower is one of the coronavirus contact tracers who has been redeployed, he claims he was retrained in just three hours and is now expected to provide answers to refugees and host families without any information themselves.

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"We are being held back by the lack of information that we have," he said.

"We can only tell them what we know. I get the impression that some people are giving information that is not correct purely and simply to try and appease them, or tell them something that they want to hear.

"Some people are being told that we have systems that we can check things. I can tell you categorically that we don't have any systems which allow us to trace or track the progress of any visa application whatsoever."

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The call handler said he had noticed a "pattern" over the last week and a half, which appeared to show young children's visas going missing or being withheld.

"Maybe you have a mother and two children, what seems to happen is two of the three applications will be given permission to travel and then the last one - which is predominantly and often the youngest child - seems to go missing or withheld," he said.

"It seems to me to be a way of the Government saying, 'Well we've issued visas’, knowing that they won't leave their youngest child, so they won't travel. I think you've got to be pretty callous to do that.

"I could understand it, if it was maybe one or two circumstances. But I've had, in the last week and a half, I would say at least twenty to thirty instances of this happening. I'm just one person, other people are taking these calls as well, and it does show a pattern."

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Data published on April 13, shows 55,600 visa applications have been made into the Homes for Ukraine scheme, 25,100 of those applications have been approved so far.

As of last April 11, only 3,200 people had set foot in the UK through the scheme.

A government spokesperson said: "In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion we have launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history.

"In just five weeks, over 56,000 visas have been issued so people can rebuild their lives in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine.

"Our Ukraine Schemes have reached a turning point, thanks to the changes we’ve made to the streamline the visa system, including simplifying the forms, and boosting the number of staff.

"Around 3,500 applications are being processed a day in the last few days, enabling thousands more Ukrainians to come through our uncapped routes."

But the government scheme has been branded "a nightmare" by host families as they accuse the process of being too slow and endangering the lives of thousands of Ukrainians desperate to find safety in the UK.

Read more: 'Light triumphs dark': Prince Charles and PM pay tribute to Ukraine in Easter messages

'Ukrainian refugees have entered the UK illegally'

Jen Smith from South Lanarkshire is sponsoring a family of two and has hit out at the "ridiculous false hope" the Government is giving to refugees.

Speaking of her experience with call handlers she said: "I phoned on day one and they said all applications will be dealt with in a matter of days, and [the refugees I have sponsored] now had weeks and weeks on their own in Warsaw without any family or friends, without a proper hot cooked meal.

"It is so unfair. I never expected it to take this long, and the longer it goes on, the more likely they are to return to Ukraine. It's still not safe for them.

"[The mother] tells me every morning how bad the situation is there, and shows me video of the sirens. But she's at a loss of what to do, because it's just taking so long.

"She's thinking is there something wrong with her, we're thinking is there something wrong with us? It's just a nightmare.

"That's us now been waiting four weeks and two days, it's totally ridiculous. I've contacted the Minister for Refugees in London, I've contacted my MP almost daily. I've contacted the helpline, who've said all applications will be dealt with in a matter of days. That was on day 18, we're now on day 30.

"I waited two hours to get through on the phone to be told, there's nothing you can do, you just have to wait. It's ridiculous, but I think giving false hope is even worse.

"The family I'm sponsoring only agreed to come here because it was going to take a matter of days. If they'd known then that it was going to be over 30 days, they'd have gone to another country."

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Anna Dover, from Edinburgh, had a similar experience with her sponsor family - who waited 30 days for the eldest child’s visa to be approved.

"Every few days I would try again, hoping I would get someone who would know what they were talking about, or had access to some information," she said.

"On one of the occasions that I phoned the helpline, the lady answered 'Hello, NHS Test & Protect', so they've clearly been drafted from another arguably useless helpline, to this useless helpline.

"Some of the people on it were really empathetic and lovely, but they had no access to any individual information. There's a lot of misinformation coming from them.

"They would say 'it's probably held up because of X, or, you maybe need to have your home visit first, maybe Y has happened' and really poor understanding of the system.

"They clearly aren't batching family applications. There are loads and loads of cases where some visas for a family have come through, but not all.

"The one that wasn't approved was actually the oldest child. We made the odd joke about, 'oh we promise we won't leave you behind in Warsaw, and bring your mum and little sister'.

"But in all seriousness, there must've been some doubt all the time about whether it would definitely be approved.

"I felt reassured, knowing that the mum and the other daughter had them approved, that it was just a matter of process rather than that they would be rejected for being a Russian spy or something.

"I didn't feel anxious that they weren't entitled to a visa, but it felt very unfair and pointless. If you look at the statistics on the website about how many visas they've approved, it's meaningless because only about six percent have come to the UK.

"That's because they're all waiting for other family members to be approved so they can actually travel. There's no value in approving a visa for someone if they're waiting for their toddler to be approved."

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