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Ukrainian refugee told to declare herself homeless in order to get on council housing list

2 August 2022, 08:31 | Updated: 2 August 2022, 08:51

Yana and her family
Yana and her family. Picture: supplied

By Charlotte Sullivan

A Ukrainian family from Kharkiv currently living as refugees in Essex have been told they must declare themselves homeless to be added to the local council's social housing list.

Yana Brayko, her elderly mother and two young children aged four and 11, arrived in the UK four months ago as part of the government’s “Homes For Ukraine” sponsorship scheme.

They were paired with host, Agnese Edmonds in Brentwood, Essex, leaving behind Yana’s husband and elderly father in Ukraine.

Sponsors who have signed up to the scheme commit to hosting guests for a minimum of six months, but can choose to continue beyond that time if they wish to.

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As of July 26, 119,000 visas have been issued via the sponsorship scheme with 72,300 of those having already arrived in the UK.

But many refugees here are now worried about their next steps.

With the initial six months almost up for Yana and her family, she told LBC that they’ve come across a number of stumbling blocks since starting to look for their own accommodation.

Their sponsor Agnese said because private landlords want big deposits and references for tenants, neither of which can be provided, they rang the local council to enquire about the family being registered on the council’s social housing list.

However Agnese says they were told the family would need to be evicted from her home and declare themselves homeless in order for them to be added.

She said there’s “no guidance or advice” on how sponsors can help refugee families beyond the initial six month period and although she’s happy for them to stay longer, she understands they need their own space.

She said: “They (the government) really need to start thinking about what will happen with these people, because three months will be here very quickly. And from the minimal information that we have had, things are not looking great.

"Things that they have to do or steps they have to take, seem to be quite extreme. Such as they need to become homeless to be able to apply for housing, which is very extreme.

"Brutally put, I need to literally chuck them out of the house, remove them from the house, so they actually become homeless... and they can then get on some sort of register and apply for the housing.”

On the government website, the advice for sponsors at the end of the six month sponsorship is:

If you don’t want to continue the arrangement beyond six months (or at any time after that), you should let your guest know in plenty of time so they can make other arrangements.

Sponsors should aim to give notice two months before the end of the six months (or with two months’ notice before any later date).

Guests will have access to public funds and, after leaving your home, will be able to rent a property like anyone else. If they need to, they’ll be able to claim the housing part of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. The UK Government has useful information on renting property which is available in the How to Rent Guide.

If your guests need further support, your local authority can support them in finding alternative accommodation.

In the four months the family have been here in the UK, Yana has got herself a full time job and registered both children at schools in the local area.

She says because of this, advice she’s been given to move to a cheaper area and see if landlords will accept her there, would make commuting to work and school impossible. Yana has described the situation as a “nightmare”:

“To tell the truth, I know that this area is quite expensive for living but I did a lot to get settled here and organised all that stuff and if I move somewhere further I will face these troubles again and again... it’s stressful. I don’t know what to expect in the next three months... It’s not about me. It’s about all Ukrainians here.”

Yana told us that initially they hoped the six month scheme would be enough time for things to be safer in Ukraine, but says as it stands, she can’t see herself being able to return home to Ukraine anytime soon:

“Of course I want to but I don’t see the end of the story right now. I can’t see the end of this war right now. It’s growing worse and worse every day. Especially when we talk about my native city... we are under the bombs, all the days and all night. Every evening... they start bombing. Six, seven rockets reaching our city and destroying our houses and killing our kids. There is a great, great disaster in my Kharkiv. It needs to be reconstructed. Rebuilt. Because it’s destroyed.”

Host Agnese says she understands Yana’s reservations about moving yet AGAIN to another area in Essex after her whole life was turned upside down only four months ago.

She said: “We get on well. We have a laugh and we’ve sort of become... yes... they’re my family and I would always help them with whatever I could. But also they’re involved in the local Ukrainian community and again you don’t want to leave that because you get used to it...”

A spokesperson for Brentwood Borough Council said: “If for any reason a host needs to end the sponsorship arrangement early or has said they will be unable to continue it after the initial six months, we will step in to help them find alternative accommodation. There are a few options available to them.

"They could be rematched with another sponsor, or our Housing Options Service can help families into private rented accommodation with assistance from the Rent Deposit Scheme. The government has said that Ukrainian people who are part of the Homes For Ukraine scheme have access to public funds during their time in the UK which would support them renting a property.

“Our Housing Team always try to work with families to prevent them becoming homeless. Sadly, if we aren’t able to prevent a family becoming homeless, and there being a waiting list for social housing, they may need to go into temporary accommodation. It isn’t always possible for the temporary accommodation to be in the borough as it depends on availability at that time.”

The Department for Levelling up said in a statement: “We are aware of practical barriers that Ukrainian families may face in trying to rent private property, and are working with councils and landlords to discuss how best to support them in doing so."