Support for Ukraine
Ukraine webinar 28 September 2022
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We held a live online public webinar to provide an update on Ukrainian nationals coming to settle in Wiltshire. A recording of the webinar is available below, as well as the questions that were raised during the session.
Good evening everyone, welcome, thank you for joining us.
We last held a Ukraine webinar back in May, at that point we had 416 homes matched with 1,150 Ukrainians. As of today, we've got 601 sponsors matched with 1,547 people and based on the latest figures, we've got 450 households who've got Ukrainian guests at the moment with a total of 1,103 guests, that number keeps changing all the time.
I'm really proud is probably the right word to say that we are, the people of Wiltshire have really rallied round to support Ukrainians, to support Ukraine after Russia's appalling attack. We have the second largest number of Ukrainians in the country for any local authority area, and we've got a long history of supporting refugees through this sort of scheme with a Syria scheme and with the Afghan scheme.
We are getting now to the point where we are six months in from the war starting and from the very beginning we've known that where people are opening up their homes, they're doing so on the basis that it will be for a minimum of a six month period, it could be longer, but not necessary and that's absolutely understandable, people want to help, but there are complexities with having people in your home, people have certain ability perhaps to have people in for a certain length of time and not beyond.
So we've always known that there would be a need to work out a more permanent solution for the Ukrainians and we've sort of been doing what we can to try and get ready for it, but we also need to acknowledge that this is not going to be simple, again, we've known it's not going to be simple from the beginning. I have frequently discussed it with James Jamieson, the chair of the Local Government Association, with MPs, with Ministers, with leaders of other councils, to try and make sure that the blips in the system, the things that could be done better are being ironed out, and we've made some progress, but we're now getting to a point where it is and I'm not going to mince words, it is going to be very difficult and as a council, we've been getting ready to deal with this for some time.
The Resettlement Migration Service team and staff are working really hard to support to liaise with partners so that Ukrainians coming here are feeling settled. The hubs, I can't thank enough the work of the hubs that have been going on across the county. I've had the opportunity to visit the Salisbury hub to talk to some of the Ukrainians, to see the work that's been going on and again, the voluntary sector, the communities have been rallying around, which we always do in Wiltshire. But I'm always, I shouldn't be surprised I'm always relieved when we continue to do the same thing because it is so effective when you see it in action.
Coming on to the position we're in now, I don't want to try and sugarcoat this, I've been discussing it regularly with Claire, with Terence Herbert the Chief Executive, with other officers. We had a look about three weeks ago, we looked at rental properties in Wiltshire, there really weren't many and there was only one rental property that was pitched at a price that would allow local housing allowance to be used to rent it. That's the housing, the kind of support that someone will be able to get if they're on Universal Credit, which many not all, but most of the Ukrainian families are on.
So the private rental sector is not looking good. I will let officers run through the details. I won't steal their thunder. I could talk for Britain on housing, it's probably best I don't. But this is going to be tricky and we are looking at as innovative methods, innovative solutions as we can. I don't have answers on all of these yet. We can't give you details on all of it. There is discussion going on. I was talking to Danny Kruger about an idea with Laura Mayes, my deputy, last week. So we are looking at flexible ways to try and address the problem, but I don't want to underestimate quite how challenging this is going to be and for people, particularly if you're watching as hosts who haven't had to deal with the housing process, it's very rigid, it's very formulaic, it's very set by government, it's a process, it's not something we have a great deal of control over and it's important to make sure that you understand and that you can all then assist Ukrainian guests to understand what that process is and how to make the most from it. I think I'll stop there, I could ramble on for a long time, but I will pass you over to Claire Edgar who's Director of Whole Life Pathway and has been, along with our team, doing an absolutely sterling job in responding to the demands that we've been placing on them in terms of the Ukraine situation.
Thank you, Claire.
Thanks, Richard, thank you for that introduction and thank you, everybody, for joining the call this evening. It's a pleasure again to have a webinar focused in on the Ukraine people living in Wiltshire and obviously we just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everybody who's become a sponsor in Wiltshire for all their support over the last few months, but we are, as Richard highlighted, aware that for many people this is a time where we're starting to reflect on next steps and indeed what the council are planning on doing. So what I wanted to touch on first was obviously just to remind everybody of the two schemes that people will be impacted with.
So the first one many of you will be familiar with because you're probably living through it at the moment, and that of course is the Homes for Ukraine scheme and that is the scheme which sponsors obviously linked together with individuals and families across Ukraine and basically come to Wiltshire, and within that scheme the sponsors will receive the thank you payment of £350 and when the Ukrainian individuals and families arrive, they will also receive £200 emergency payment.
We've obviously worked really, really hard to ensure that that money's been released in a timely way and I do believe that we've been quite successful in achieving that and we continue to have a really strong team to deliver that moving forward.
I just also wanted to take the opportunity to touch on the family scheme. I'm very conscious that that is a scheme that many people will be aware of, but they'll also know that that's not a scheme that the local government, such as ourselves, are actually linked into for various reasons, as to when it was originally set up and indeed kind of where the government has chosen to go with it. So people will be aware that the family scheme is when an individual has family connections in the country and they organise basically the travel and indeed the settling into Wiltshire themselves.
The reason it's really important to raise that is because we don't always know who's arriving into Wiltshire through the family scheme, we're also very mindful that we don't have financial resources to support individuals that arrive in the family scheme as well. What I would say today is that we are really conscious of that and we have been working with our local MPs and Richard and other elected members have been raising the profile of how we could perhaps look to merge these schemes going forward.
So I just wanted to put some reassurance in there, but as with so much of this topic, the guidance and policy and decision making sits at central government as opposed to the council itself. So whilst we continue to lobby and indeed raise these concerns, we do have to take into consideration that these are decisions that have to be made via the government themselves directly, but we are flagging these issues on a regular basis as Richard alluded to earlier.
So just in terms of slides, you can see that I've just highlighted what the two schemes are and then obviously how you can actually find further information, particularly around the Homes for Ukraine scheme and just to touch that actually on the 'Homes for Ukraine scheme: record your interest', that is where you can start to register your interest if you'd like to become a sponsor moving forward.
So you'll be aware that, just moving on to the next slide, please. So be aware that we do receive further funding through central government, so obviously I touched on the £350 thank you payment and the £200 emergency payment. But we as a council also receive direct funding as well under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and I think it's really important that everybody understands how we're using that money. Obviously as a council we like to be open and transparent and so we want to be really clear in terms of how we are using that money going forward, it is obviously being used and ring-fenced specifically for people from Ukraine and you'll be able to see just on this slide some of the examples that we have actually used to ensure that basically we have some infrastructure and support in place for people arriving, that we continue to look at that, we have a regular fortnightly meeting which includes wider partners, including our health colleagues and indeed South West regional colleagues as well, to look at how best we can work better together to ensure that we are, one: utilising the funds as best as possible and two: what good practice looks like moving forward. So you will see that obviously a lot of that support is absolutely critical in order for us to deliver services and support for individuals as they arrive and you'll notice that we obviously look to use that money, for example, to undertake the DBS checks that you'll be aware of as well.
We do continue to see sponsors registering onto the Homes for Ukraine scheme and we do continue to see people coming into the country. We do recognise that's slowed down a little bit, but we also recognise that certain things have happened as you are very well aware, I'm sure, in Ukraine at the moment and there's a likelihood that it's likely to increase further. Okay. Thank you.
So I just also wanted to take the opportunity just to touch on some of the activity that's taken place in our education sector. So if we could just move on to, thank you.
So we're really conscious in Wiltshire that people are arriving as a family and we are really delighted to see that and indeed really pleased to hear of all the lovely stories of children arriving in Wiltshire and being able to register with our schools. And I just wanted to highlight some of the work and activity that's been taking place. I'm extremely proud of the fact that we've been able to find and offer placements to all the children that have arrived, but it must be said that is significantly challenging as we move forward and indeed if the numbers grow, so you know, we just have to kind of bear in mind some of the difficulties that we may face if we do see an increase in activity moving forward of arrivals coming.
So our teams in the Education Department, as you can see, work tirelessly to ensure that they find school placements. They worked really hard to try and find those school placements as near and in the local catchment area, so to speak, of where the families are living, and obviously they work within a statutory timeline, which is 15 days and we've almost achieved that, which is a real, real achievement and success for the education teams. And again, I can't thank them enough because they haven't been added to in terms of a resource, they have been doing this as part of their day job and they've worked extremely hard because they really understand how important it is for children and young people to have education and to secure those educational placements.
So as of the 23 September, we had 356 school applications. That's 214 primary and 142 secondary applications and you'll see that 344 of those have been offered to date, and as I said, almost all within the 15 day deadline. So that's a real achievement for the teams and indeed hopefully for the children and I'm really pleased to hear a lot of the success stories from my colleagues in education.
Just to also touch on that there's translation activity that you can access on YouTube and we can make sure that you can find a link to that as well, in terms of being able to understand how to access education and indeed on enrolling children, etcetera and there's also additional funding where appropriate, where free school meals are available and indeed help and assistance around school uniform, if it's a specific uniform required. And also you'll see on the slide government choices, Childcare Choices where you can access the 33 hours for childcare moving forward. Okay, also just quickly on schools as well, I just wanted to mention that we have an interpreter service available via Microsoft Teams as well, so we obviously try really hard to ensure that parents and carers are able to connect really well with the schools so that that's an access and available to families should they want to use that going forward. And again, we can make sure that people are well sighted on how to access that too. We also, as you can see, as I say from the link, encourage and support the younger children to access early years support. And indeed, please have a little look on the website to see how you can access that. But as I say, you can also hopefully see that link there too.
Okay, so if I can just move on also to home to school transport, again in a county the size of Wiltshire, I think most of us are aware of some of the challenges that that might face in terms of being able to access school should you not live in the local village? Sorry, the school may not be in the local village or maybe not in walking distance, but as you can see from the information here, we've got a number of young people being able to access free, and or assisted transport and again, we are also encouraging people to connect with us if there's a challenge or a difficulty in that area as well, and we will do our very best to ensure that people are able to access that.
We are very mindful of the cost of transport, as you can see it costs around £180,000 per year, but we also recognise the need for ensuring that children access education and that is one of our number one priorities across Wiltshire, and again, just to reiterate where we find challenges as a service, we are working as one council and as partnerships to really try and overcome them as best as we possibly can.
Okay, so next one is just to touch on education for adults, and again, it's something we're really mindful of in terms of being able to support adults moving into Wiltshire, living in Wiltshire, and whether they make decisions about staying in Wiltshire and indeed the UK and how best we can support individuals to feel part of our local community. And one of the main areas that we can do that is helping people communicate effectively and understand and be able to ask simple questions in shops, etc.. So we were again one of the first local authorities really to be able to run the ESOL programme, and as you can see, a number of Ukrainian individuals have attended that, and again, you can see on the back of that we've been able to support and encourage and enable 580 people from Ukraine to find employment. And indeed that is all sponsored and supported through partnership working and as I say, that's partnership externally and often we discuss that in multi-agency forums, but also partnership in internally across the council as well. A number of departments in Wiltshire Council have really stepped up to work together to really try and support individuals from Ukraine arriving and indeed families. And again, just to reiterate on, hopefully you can see on the slides that there is good strong links there, website links that you can access in order to find employment and indeed, we can also help link people into the ESOL courses as well.
Okay, so and just also community support. Now this area I just really wanted to highlight and I think Richard touched on it at the very beginning, but we are very mindful as a local authority that we've come out of a pandemic which took two years, and we know that COVID again is on the rise and there's still a reliance on the voluntary and community sector partners to support some of the statutory partners coming through the recovery of the pandemic and we can't thank them enough for all the work and support that they did during that time.
So we really get that the context of this alongside the pandemic has really enabled us to have closer working relationships with our voluntary and community sector partners. And also we just wanted to use the opportunity to say how grateful we are because a lot of the work in the Ukraine area has really come organically from community activity and our local areas where people have come together to offer their support to individuals, and many of you on the call tonight will be part of those community hubs and as a council we really, really recognise that way of organically supporting individuals can actually be often more effective than big chunky organisations such as ourselves intervening, so we just wanted to take that opportunity to highlight the great work of the hubs of which we have, we know of at least 18 across the county, Richard and myself have met with Salisbury and I know Nicole, who will come on the call later to talk about housing, has also met with various hubs as well. So we really, you know, mindful of the activity that's happening in that space. And again, if there is any new groups being set up and you want to let us know about it, please do through our Homes for Ukraine website, sorry email address which is H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk. And again, we can make sure with the information that all gets sent out to yourselves as well. Really for us it's important for us to know where these hubs are so we can try and connect with yourselves and vice versa.
What we recognise is there's lots of individual questions that people have around the next steps. We can't always answer them in a timely way, so what we want to do is be able to answer them as clearly as we possibly can and we do that through various means, one: hopefully connecting with the hubs, two: our webinars and three: through, we do submit, many of you hopefully will have seen our sponsorship letter, newsletter that we make sure goes out on a regular basis with updates, etc, too. So communication in this is absolutely critical. So we just wanted to flag that, come to us, let us know you're existing and we will try and make sure that any new information we receive can be shared widely with your hub partners. Thank you.
Okay, so if I can move on just to the next slide. So we actually undertook a survey of sponsors. So again, many of you on the call may be sponsors, so you may be familiar with the survey and the rationale behind this was really about trying to understand next steps for Wiltshire and how best we can support people across the county. So as you'll be aware, for those of you that have seen the sponsorship form, sorry, the survey form, what we really wanted to do was try and find out what the future might look like for you and your guests. And that would help us sort of think about how we best respond to the change in what is happening in the next 6 to 12 months.
So we're really grateful for 267 sponsors who completed the survey, and that's a massive thank you to those individuals because it really will help us find new ways of supporting individuals, like I say, through the next period. What we know is obviously 15% have said that they would like to continue And the reason the 12 month period is important is you'll be aware from the start of the webinar and indeed from your own experiences that the £350 thank you payment currently ends at the 12 month period. So we're very mindful of that. And again, as I said earlier, we are happy to continue to raise that with our MPs because we do recognise people staying within the Homes for Ukraine scheme for as long as possible is beneficial. It enables us to ensure that individuals are safeguarded, children are in education and indeed it keeps, you know, us able to have good, strong communication with individuals, families and indeed the sponsors.
So we really do want people to stay within the Homes for Ukraine scheme for as long as they possibly can. You can also see that 35% have said they will continue to support up to 12 months. And again, I do recognise when this scheme started it was a minimum of six months was quoted by central government and as I say, the £350 thank you payment was up to 12 months. So again, we do recognise that people have, in good faith connected with individuals in Ukraine and families in Ukraine with that six month marker in their mind, so having support up to that 12 month period, again, really benefits families, individuals in Wiltshire. So again, a massive thank you to those people that are willing to do that.
And then the 25%, 66 people who completed the survey have provided a variety of different responses on their intentions.
For the other 25% of people that haven't responded, the survey is still open, so please do, please do get in touch and let us know your intentions. As I say, it does help us gives us a bit of a sense check of how many people are likely to need additional support going forward, what that support might look like. What we're also really interested in is kind of people wishing to leave Wiltshire, perhaps go to other family and friends that they know of as well. You know, we really want to have a rich picture of what is happening for our Ukrainian families and individuals that are living in Wiltshire.
Okay, thank you. Can we move on to the next slide, please?
So just before I pass over to Nicole, I just wanted to say that obviously we've touched on the two schemes today, though I'm sure you've got lots of questions which we hope to answer and obviously we really want to, you know, consider some of the responses may need some time for us to reflect on and give you good, strong answers back. But just to reassure you that we are kind of working on a number of areas that have been highlighted to us already, we do, as I say, liaise very closely with our local MPs on some of these issues and as I mentioned earlier, we have the fortnightly connected groups which include our regional colleagues, individuals from the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, and indeed on occasion the Home Office as well. So where we have concerns, where we have challenges, we are feeding them back into the system for further kind of guidance, support and hopefully conversations around next steps.
However, I'm extremely conscious that a number of people have already approached the council, sponsors and guests informing us that people are likely to move on, as that six month period has ended. And that's why we've invited Nicole today, who's our head of housing, to help go through some of their processes and indeed some of the challenges around sourcing accommodation in the next few months.
So I'll just hand you over to Nicole. Thanks, Nicole.
Thank you, Claire. Good evening, everybody.
As Claire mentioned, I just want to say we're really grateful to all sponsors who have completed the survey, it really does help us understand people's intentions, so we really do encourage people to fill those in to help inform us how to move things forward.
The Refugee Resettlement and Migration Team is working alongside myself and my housing colleagues to monitor what may change over the next six months. We want to continue working with sponsors, so a relationship between the guest and the sponsor can be maintained as long as possible.
So what are the options for the future?
Alternative arrangements will need to be made if any sponsors are not able to extend the sponsorship beyond six months and these conversations are already starting to take place. Where we can, we will rematch with another host who is already able to provide a home. If you know of a rematch, then please tell us by emailing us at the H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk. This is obviously something that Claire has alluded to, we are encouraging people to try and stay and remain with their host for as long as possible. Should we be unable to rematch, the guest will potentially register as homeless and this will result in an increase of pressure on our housing team who will need to step in, often at short or with emergency notice.
We would ask all hosts to have the conversation about future plans as soon as possible, and ideally from the four months into your guests stay, we will continue to help sponsors support their guests, but if you are unsure, or need clarification or need to understand or have any questions, then again, please email us at H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk.
I just want to mention, and I'm sure you're very aware that housing stock is limited and the housing register is increasing and like all local authorities, we are aware there are going to be significant pressures and issues going forward. The Government is looking closely at this and will continue to keep you updated by the sponsor newsletter, which goes out regularly.
I'd like to thank you and pass you over to Ceri.
That's great. Thanks, Nicole, and thanks to all of our presenters. There's a lot of information there, but there is a lot happening and it's a very fast moving situation. So we want to give you as much information as possible.
We'll move to the Q&A session now.
We've answered a number of questions in the chat already, but we've received a lot of questions in advance of the meeting, which we will begin with.
So the first question is for you, Claire.
Can Ukraine guests actively look for work and get a national insurance number as there are plenty of vacancies around at the moment?
Thanks, Ceri. Yep. Short answer is yes, they can, that's not a problem and again, if they need assistance with that, please drop us an email at our Homes for Ukraine email address. So if we could just make sure that's available to everybody, but we can certainly look to support that.
Thanks, Claire. Now, the next question is for Nicole.
Our family would like to apply for social housing, can they do this?
Yeah, any Ukraine national has the right to make an application to join the council's housing register to express an interest in applying or bidding for our social housing. However, we are encouraging families to remain, as I say, with the host scheme for as long as possible. But if this is no longer an option, we would encourage looking to secure accommodation in the private sector and we will obviously support them at the same time in applying to join the housing register. New prospective housing applications can call and speak to a Housing Solutions Officer, and the number for that is 0300 456 0106 between working hours of 9-5. But we just want to mention for everybody that the demand for social housing is extremely high and the wait time to secure permanent accommodation could be months, which is why we are encouraging the other options in the first instance.
And so the next question is for you again, Nicole. If my guest wants to live in social housing near family in a different area in Wiltshire, can they do this?
Yes, of course. So once an application has been assessed, the Ukraine family is eligible to bid on any suitable property that's advertised through our Homes4Wiltshire system. We use that system to advertise social housing across the Wiltshire area. However, what I would like to say is priority is given to applicants who have a confirmed local connection with a particular parish or town. So it is possible, but we do give priority to those with a local connection.
Thank you, Nicole, back to you again.
My Ukraine family is a large family, are they likely to get social housing that is large enough for them?
Yeah, large social housing is in extreme high demand and some families, unfortunately, have been waiting a very long time, in some cases years for very large five, six bedroom properties. We are not able to predict the length of time that someone may need to wait before they are allocated to social housing, which is why we are encouraging the alternative options, particularly around trying to secure accommodation in the private rented sector.
Thanks very much and you'll be pleased to know that you haven't got the next question. So Richard, can you advise if Wiltshire will offer guest Ukrainians looking to enter into rental accommodation support similar to Bristol by offering landlords rent guarantees?
We've looked at this and I think it's honestly really tricky. We certainly, we've got schemes around helping with deposits that people would be able to use and to lock into. But if we went down that route, we could potentially be looking at 300 families that are needing support, needing to rent properties over, a slightly long-winded answer, but I think it's important, our rental market, the Bristol rental market, there's a lot more property to rent and rents are, they're not cheap, but there are bits of Bristol where it's cheaper. In Wiltshire, the rental market really is not good at the moment, there are very few properties to rent and they tend to be really expensive. So if we start doing that and we start putting money into that, we're likely to burn through a lot of the funding that we have available very quickly and then have exactly the same problem at the end of it.
What we are looking to do is come up with ways and we're working around a couple of ideas. I'm not going to go into them yet because we're struggling with some issues around state aid, and legality, but we're trying to find some ways to provide that solution in a way that will give sustainable, more longer term accommodation. So yeah, we're looking at it. We don't think the Bristol scheme is ideal. It's probably the fail-safe, the kind of thing that we fall back on if nothing else will work, but we're trying to come up with something that is more long-term and more sustainable, so hopefully that answers the question.
Thank you, Richard. Claire, the next questions for you.
What happens if a child wants to stay in Wiltshire while her family wish to return back to the Ukraine? Would the host still qualify for the £350 per month thank you payment? Is there any additional authorisation or
parental guardianship approval required? Would that be any financial assistance, i.e. continuation of free school meals and free school bus passes?
Thanks, Ceri. I mean, that is a very specific question and quite a technical question in some ways. I think it's really important to recognise the role of Children's Social Care. They would need to ensure that the child was actually assessed and Children's Social Care were notified if the child became unaccompanied whilst in the UK. So that would be the first call and again for advice around this, they can contact our Homes4Ukraine team
who can signpost and also we've got strong links in our social care teams, as you can imagine. But just in terms of the £350 thank you payment. Yes, the host would still receive that and indeed, the young person would still receive support in the school setting as well. So, for example, free school meals and if they needed to access free school busses, as I mentioned earlier, then they would. But the the element of unaccompanied child, it's really important that that is linked in to our Children's Social Care teams.
Thank you very much, Claire, and back to you for the next question. Although we hope the war will end soon, many Ukrainians are looking at the possibility of staying in the UK for up to three years allowed by their residence permits. Many are looking to live more independently and make a growing contribution to British society. In particular some wish to establish businesses and rent their own homes. Many have the experience, capacity and
in some cases the funds for such ventures, but need some support from English speakers who can help them navigate the administration. Is there any support available?
Yes there is. So there's a Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Hub and again we can make sure that the website for that is accessible to everybody on the call and people can look at that and that will support people. But also just to think about our own internal recruitment, so we have a jobs page on our website and we are also through the refugee migration team linking in with our HR colleagues to look at how we best connect through the caseworkers that are supporting people under the Homes4Ukraine scheme to sort of see what vacancies are available within the council as well because obviously we want to be a strong role model in this around recruitment and retention of our staff as well and how best we can link the two together. So please have a look on the Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Hub, but also have a look on our website as well.
Brilliant, thanks Claire.
Sorry, Ceri, can I just add one point there, I think we need to be really careful about assuming what will happen in Ukraine, a few weeks ago it looked as if the Russian army was in disarray and falling back and everyone could go home by Christmas, and then we've got threats of Russia to use nuclear weapons, which you have to take seriously. You can't you can't take anything Putin says without being taking it seriously. So we, there are a huge number of unknowns here. We don't know if we will see more refugees coming in or if we will see people going home. We've got to work on the assumption that that we're going to be dealing with a long-term issue and that it's going to continue to be really complex.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Richard.
Claire, when we started sponsoring and met with Wiltshire Council, we were told we would have a named caseworker. Does this system exist?
It does. Yep, it does. So apologies. We do recognise that at the start that was very much our ambition. But what we found was very high demand at the very beginning and there were certain priorities that we wanted to make sure that we met, such as the DBS checks and accommodation checks. So we focused in on them, but now we have actually recruited and grown the team further as well, so that is something that the team are looking to pick up again. So again, please do contact us and we will try to make sure that you're aligned to an actual named caseworker moving forward.
Thank you very much.
Most hosts would like to work collaboratively with the council and their guest to move to a next stage beyond sponsorship, however, it appears the only option is either for sponsors or guests to do all the work or for sponsors to terminate the sponsorship and hand over their guests. Can we not have a constructive three-way approach which builds on the positivity of the initial sponsorship?
Claire, are you able to respond to that one?
Yeah, it is a challenge, I won't lie. You know, obviously we have the caseworkers in place. We're very conscious of breakdowns between sponsor and guest, which do take our priority and precedent. You know, we try really, really hard to support people to, you know, mediate, maintain that relationship wherever possible. We do have very small numbers actually at the moment where that's happened, but we have often put our energies very much in that space. We do also re-match, but again, it's very difficult because our rematching pool is quite limited as well. So whilst the numbers of people that expressed an interest in becoming a sponsor are high, not everybody has actually wished to do that in terms of progressing it as well. So we do recognise that it's quite difficult in terms of where we are at the moment, particularly with sponsors views around the six month period where they are now thinking that the guest should move on and we will work with people as best as we possibly can, as I say, particularly to re-match. But we have to remember Homes4Ukraine is a national scheme.
It's come from central government. The guidance for Local Authorities is very much driven, as I say from that point, we do raise this as an issue, so there's various areas that, you know, we try to find ways and part of the survey and connecting with the sponsors to understand what would enable and help people to stay within the Homes4Ukraine scheme for as long as possible. You know it's what we want to do,
we want to understand what it means for people who do the sponsoring so that we can maintain those relationships. Because at the moment, although we are exploring other options in the Council, it is true to say that often if that relationship is completely broken down, or indeed that the sponsor feels that that six months period has ended and therefore, you know, they no longer wish for the guest to live with them. There is very limited options available in terms of housing and accommodation. So that is why I would urge people to stay within the Homes4Ukraine scheme for as long as possible. Give us notice if it looks like things are challenging or you've made a commitment between yourselves, the sponsor and guest, that this will end at the six months point. We can try and work with you and try and find a re-match, but it isn't guaranteed.
Thank you. Thanks, Claire.
So, Claire, the next two questions. Do we anticipate any changes to the £350 payment? Will it be extended beyond 12 months? And do we think it could be increased in line with cost of living and energy costs?
Thanks, Ceri and a really, really interesting question, a very valid one at the moment, isn't it?
Both elements to that question. As I said earlier, the £350 thank you payment isn't something the council has, it's something we administer. And again, it's come from central government, it's their policy. What we have been doing because we recognise this quite early on and we have been lobbying our local MPs and Richard has obviously raised this a number of times in terms of at least asking. It's a bit like the family scheme, we've asked local MPs and colleagues in government as in Department of Levelling Up and indeed the Home Office, you know, can we consider how we might merge the two schemes. So a lot of activity is taking place just to encourage government to have a look at the guidance, have a look at the policy to see how we can perhaps change the current situation. I don't know if Richard wanted to comment on that at all.
Yeah. Just to reiterate, we are putting forward any idea at the highest possible level. We do have a different government now. There is no longer a minister that we can get to directly, but we are going through, MPs. There's been some discussion, some suggestion that it may be extended. I just I can't tell you right now how that's going to pan out. Four weeks ago, I would have said, yes, it's likely, we're likely to see some movement. I don't know if we will now, or not.
Thanks, Richard. Claire, what financial advice is likely to be available for Ukraine families and how can they find out what support is available?
Thanks, Ceri. Yep. So again, you can contact caseworkers and we can try and advise, but fundamentally people who've come through the Homes4Ukraine scheme can access Universal Credit, that often will have a housing element to it as well should people move on. So it's important that they look at that. There's also a link to benefits calculator that I think we can share again when we release the further information going forward as well.
So that can help people establish what benefits they're entitled to. But again, the criteria for people arriving in the country from Ukraine means that they can access Universal Credit. So I would urge them to have a look on the website and indeed check out what they are entitled to moving forward.
Thank you very much.
Sorry Ceri, again, I just want to jump in on that. I think we also need to be cognisant of the cost of living crisis we're facing. The costs of very different to where they were six months ago, particularly on energy, and it's a really difficult situation for everyone. It's going to be particularly difficult if you have come from Ukraine without a great deal, a couple of suitcases, been staying in someone's house relatively sheltered from the impact of those costs and then are looking at going into accommodation, even if it's through council housing or affordable housing or on a reduced rent, some of the costs are going to be really difficult. So it's a really important question to be asking. There isn't going to be a simple answer, talking to refugees some are already going to be able to sustain themselves, which is great, from what I can pick up from my discussions, most aren't, and there will be a need to resort to Universal Credit, which will be going up by the inflation rate from September when it's increased next year. But that's next year. This fair amount of time before that, [we're] going to have to put as much support in as we can all round and hopefully the hubs will be able to help there as well. Perhaps talk to Citizens Advice Bureau to work out the kind of processes that they would go through. Just do everything you can to help get that education starting now, because it's a real risk. The one thing we really don't want is families to go in to accommodation, find they can't afford it, end up in arrears, and then have immense difficulty getting housed anywhere because they've got a bad credit history. It's difficult enough for Ukrainians who don't have a credit history coming into the UK as it is.
Great, thank you very much, Richard.
Claire, can we encourage Ukraine guests to have the COVID vaccine?
Thanks, Ceri and again an interesting question given some of the rises in COVID numbers recently, we can't force anyone to have the COVID vaccine, but we can provide information around the benefits of the vaccine, and indeed, we can encourage people to register to be vaccinated as well. So, again, in the in terms of how you do that, you can always contact us and we can make sure that we provide you with that information, but we couldn't force anyone who's arrived to have the COVID vaccine.
Thanks, Claire. Nicole, the next question is for you. I'm giving two months notice to find a new home for my guest after the six month placement has ended. What do I need to do?
Yeah, if two months notice has been given, it's really helpful because it gives us the opportunity to work with the family to look at alternative options. So if they haven't already made contact with us, we would ask them to contact the firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then work with them. Firstly, we will look to find an alternative host, if that's not possible, we will look into the private rented sector to see if there's any opportunities there. If all else fails and we're not able to prevent homelessness, then we will look and assess them and if required we would place them into temporary accommodation. If we are able to secure a private let, we can assist them with the deposit and rent in advance to assist them in doing so.
That's great, thanks Nicole, and we also had a question earlier, Nicole. The website to register for housing is not easy. Would you be able to explain it? So I don't know if you can give an explanation or offer some advice.
Yeah, we did find that, we did a bit of research with our customers and they were finding the online application quite difficult, and we have recently changed our system. So unfortunately customers can no longer go on to our website and make a direct online application. Our preference now is that any tenant, resident or Ukraine family should make contact with a Housing Solutions case officer. We can then work with them to work out what their circumstances, better understand what their needs are, discuss all the options that might not be available because it may not just be around social housing. But obviously if we felt
that social housing was an option for them, then we would talk them through and provide them with a link to make that online application. I would suggest if anyone would want to speak to a housing caseworker, then the telephone number for them to call would be 0300 456 0106 and we can talk them through that process.
That's great. Thank you very much, Nicole. So, Richard, we have one question in advance around the armed forces. So what is the council doing to free up empty homes to increase housing stock? And have we worked with the armed forces to make some of the empty housing available? And then we've also had two this evening come in around whether there's the option to use military housing and who would make the decision on unoccupied MOD housing. So I don't know if you want to wrap all three of those into one.
Absolutely. Just for an update for those who aren't aware, there are at the moment, 1,350 empty MOD properties inside Wiltshire and they've been empty for quite some time. We first became aware of this when, when tenants were being evicted from non-military tenants, from other MOD properties. And I must admit I was appalled, I would describe this as a national scandal and many of the MPs agree with me. We've been approaching the MOD to do pretty much anything to get these back into use, to use them for Afghan refugees, now to use them for Ukrainian refugees. We've offered to look at purchasing them, putting them into our own housing stock and we are getting nowhere. We keep getting a response that they're all required for urgent operational needs. They're under repair. There have been a lot of responses, I'm sure, in isolation elements of those responses make sense, but collectively I don't think they do because, I mean, there were houses in Devizes that were damaged in storm Eunice that had had no repairs done several months later. it really is not a good situation. The decision makers here are the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, and they're planning to deal with with military housing across the UK. There are a lot more empty houses in other parts of the UK as well. Some of those have been offered up to assist with the Afghan scheme, but none in Wiltshire. So we've discussed it, I've discussed it with the relevant ministers. We've had three housing ministers in the time that I've been discussing it. I've raised it with all of them, not the newest one, but I will do that too. It is incredibly frustrating because we could use that, the MOD could offer them up on a years contract, or a six month contract to at the very least stagger the effect of this, and many of them are larger three bed properties, which we could, three or four bed properties which we could really use. So I am pushing this at every opportunity. Words fail me and no, I can't be polite in describing the way that I think the MOD Defence Structure Organisation have handled it. I also want to be clear, this is not the Army. The Army are actually quite keen to help. This is the MOD defence structure, so it's London based civil servants who seem to have the decision. I assume ministers have the final say, but we've not been able to make any headway.
Thanks, Richard, that's great.
So we've got two more questions then and then we will wrap up. So Claire, I'll start with you. If a Ukraine guest has a job, is there any help with childcare?
Thanks, Ceri. It would depend on the circumstances and the person's income. If a person earns less than £152 per week, they will be potential be able to claim Universal Credit for childcare. This is for a child under the age of 17. So there is a lot more around this and indeed, it's probably best for the person because it would be individual to them to have a look on the Childcarechoices.gov.uk website so that they can actually understand what they may be entitled to, because I believe there's an online calculator that would be able to help with that.
That's great. Thanks very much, Clare. So finally the last question. Nicole just mentioned help with deposit and guarantor for private rented housing. Could you explain this further? Do people need to be homeless or can this be arranged before that point?
Yeah, of course. So the WiltsLet scheme is a form of prevention, so families would need to make contact with us in advance of being made homeless, so that we can work with them to try and help secure a private let. If we're able to find something that's suitable and affordable, then we will look to activate the WiltsLet scheme, which is basically looking at paying the deposit and rent in advance to help that family to move into that private rented property without having the need to go through the homelessness procedure.
Thanks, Nicole, that's great and thanks everyone for your questions this evening. I will pass over to Richard to say a final few words.
Thank you very much to everyone who's been attending. Thank you to the presenters.
We're dealing with a, well, not to use the word complicated, complicated is an excuse. It's a really complex situation. Everyone's needs and requirements here are going to be, are going to be different and I would urge you all, act early and make sure you look into this in detail, make use of the hubs, make use of the council services that have been described. For many of our guests, my assessment would be that the social housing, the housing register is going to be the only rational way forward, unless we can sort something else out and if we can, we will let you know as soon as we do and that is going to involve time. It's going to involve some issues around the potential need to provide temporary accommodation. We don't use hotels and B&Bs for homeless people, in terms of temporary accommodation we use houses. It's going to place a great strain on that at a time when the housing register is already under significant strain coming out of COVID. The numbers on the register have almost doubled since the COVID pandemic started and let's be blunt, if interest rates go up, that almost invariably results in more issues and more people coming onto the housing register.
So it is going to be a very tough few months ahead, which is why making sure you've got all the information and acting early is really important. If you look on our website under the Ukraine section, you'll get information, FAQs, you'll get the information there that you need and if you can't find it, get in touch and we'll make sure we pull it together. We'll be sharing a link to the webinar, so if you want to watch it again, catch notes, share it with those you couldn't attend, please do and I'd urge them to listen to the questions because I think much of the important information really is in the questions here.
Thank you to everyone for your continued support. Collectively, you are making a big difference to people's lives when they pretty much been through devastation. So thank you for all you're doing. We understand it isn't easy. We understand we've got to find solutions. We will do everything we can to help.
On behalf of Ceri, Claire, Nicole, myself, goodbye. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.
Have those conversations and make sure you're in touch with us and that you're getting all the support that we can provide. Thank you.
Questions from webinar
Any Ukraine national has the right to make an application to join the council's Housing Register to express an interest in social housing. However, we are encouraging families to remain in the host scheme for as long as possible and if this is no longer an option, we would encourage looking to secure accommodation in the private sector as well as supporting them to apply to join the housing register. New prospective housing applicants can call and speak to a housing solutions officer on 0300 456 0106 between 0900 and 1700 hours. The demand for social housing is extremely high and the wait time to secure permanent accommodation could be months which is why we are encouraging the other options.
Once an application has been assessed, the Ukraine family is eligible to bid on any suitable property advertised through Homes4wiltshire which advertises social housing across Wiltshire. Priority is however given to applicants with a confirmed local connection to a particular parish or town.
Large social housing is in very high demand and some families have been waiting years for large 5-6 bedroom properties. We are not able to predict length of time someone may need to wait before they are allocated social housing which is why we are encouraging securement of a private let as a quicker option.
Wiltshire Council currently offers a 'Wilts let deposit' scheme in which we will pay the deposit and rent in advance when it is not affordable for the Ukraine family, to help them to secure a private let. Due to not having wide availability of private rented properties in Wiltshire we are considering alternative options which are currently being scoped out. We are looking to appoint a dedicated worker who will work with sponsors and Ukraine families around the options available in the private rented sector, an advert is currently out for recruitment.
We are looking at options for this. We have raised the issue of military housing stock with the Armed Forces on a number of occasions.
Caseworkers are contacting all sponsorships to offer support and information regarding moving on to alternative accommodation. Wiltshire Council look to support with rematching guests with new sponsors, however it needs to be noted that with a limited rematch pool, this isn't always possible. We are looking to appoint a dedicated worker who will work with sponsors and Ukraine families around the options available in the private rented sector Please contact H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk if you would like support with this.
We can confirm to a private landlord that the guest is part of the h4U scheme and our support workers will assist where possible.
Making a direct online application for housing is no longer possible. To help better understand individual circumstances and the options available to them we ask that in the first instance anyone interested in joining the register should first speak with a housing solutions officer.
The Local Housing Allowance is the figure used for those claiming housing costs through benefit and it is the maximum they are eligible to claim. Details can be found on https://lha-direct.voa.gov.uk.
As long as the house they are sharing is of a suitable size then in agreement with the landlord they can rent together.
Social housing in most local authorities is in extremely high demand. Each Local Authority will have an allocations policy which will specify who is and who isn't eligible to apply to join there housing register. The eligibility criteria is different for each Local Authority so anyone wishing to move to a different area would need to contact the appropriate local authority for further information.
If they choose to go to another local authority area, it would depend on their allocation policy if they are eligible for social housing.
Most private landlords and social housing providers will apply the government bedroom standard when determining the appropriate size of any accommodation. This will depend on the age and gender of the children as well as any particular support needs.
Hosts and guests can contact H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk with notice who can then liaise with housing colleagues, to prevent needing to use the homeless email directly if this is causing distress. We would appreciate as much notice as possible of the need for a move on accommodation - ideally two months or more.
This is a decision for the landlord of the property the families are wishing to rent. This is not a decision that the local authority can influence.
Wiltshire Council currently offers a 'Wilts let deposit' scheme in which we could pay the deposit and rent in advance when it is not affordable for the Ukraine family, to help them to secure a private let when they are either homeless or threatened with homelessness. The property would need to be assessed as being suitable and affordable
If an alternative sponsor is not found and they have not been able to secure accommodation in the private sector and the family have been asked to leave, we would ask that at the point they are provided with two months notice a copy is sent to email@example.com. This is not for emergencies but to invoke our statutory homelessness duties.
We have had a couple of expressions of interest from TEFL teachers (who are already supporting Informal ESOL groups via the Ukrainian Hubs) in a flexible type of role; however, all our teaching staff are on permanent contracts. The Wiltshire Talent Bank requires a 3 month employment contract which means that we haven't been able to utilise this to supplement our teaching timetable capacity for ad hoc sessions. Some other ACE services in local authorities do use casual staff to run courses, but this has a risk regarding quality of service.
For an app, Duolingo might be helpful.
We suggest these resources to our learners:
The resources on BBC Learning English are very good for ESOL BBC Learning English - BBC Learning English https://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/course/emw/unit-1/session-12
British Council resources: Learn English Online | British Council https://www.britishcouncil.org/english
Plus Wiltshire College are running ESOL courses currently:
Explore this website for any local info too: https://wiltshiretogether.org.uk/campaign/supporting-wiltshires-refugees
Headway Student's site: https://elt.oup.com/student/headway/?cc=gb&selLanguage=en
We have a 10 session (25 hour) beginners ESOL course called Life in the UK. Learners can progress to our intermediate ESOL course (10 hours online) if their English is at a Entry 3/B1 level. Progression pathways are to the local college for their accredited ESOL programme which lasts a full academic year if they do both Speaking and Listening and Reading and Writing elements, or the WEA also offer accredited online ESOL courses, which are free or low cost.We have a 10 session (25 hour) beginners ESOL course called Life in the UK. Learners can progress to our intermediate ESOL course (10 hours online) if their English is at a Entry 3/B1 level. Progression pathways are to the local college for their accredited ESOL programme which lasts a full academic year if they do both Speaking and Listening and Reading and Writing elements, or the WEA also offer accredited online ESOL courses, which are free or low cost.
Schools are not funded to provide a teaching assistant in every lesson. Schools decide how best to use the available resource to support every student. If you are concerned, please contact the school directly and discuss these concerns. We can offer the school support via our Ethnic Minority Service.
There is help available but it will depend on their circumstances and income.
If a person earns less than £152 per week (£608 per month) they will potentially be able to claim the 'universal credit for childcare' This is available for any child under 17 years old.
The person can claim up to 85% of their eligible childcare costs back. This could be up to £646 per month for one child or £1,108 for two or more children.
To be eligible they will need to be working (or due to start work) and claiming universal credit.
There is an online calculator which will show your options after a couple of basic questions and more information on the types of funding available and how to apply on https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk/.
If you plan to host a Ukrainian refugee(s) in your main home, you will not lose any existing council tax discounts, Council tax reductions, disregards or exemptions (including single persons discount) for the duration of the refugee(s) stay. If a Ukrainian family is made liable for council tax they are able to make a claim for Council Tax Reduction.
Ideally we would like 2 months' notice to help with a planned and supportive move on.
We work closely with our health partners and we are aware dentistry is a challenge (for the wider population as a whole) also this website is useful https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-dentist.
Yes, if your guests need support with this, please email H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk where a caseworker will contact you.
The £350 host payment could continue if the young person is considered an unaccompanied child. Requests for this would need to be assessed individually by children's social care. Contact H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk to discuss individual cases. As the young person would still be attending school they will still receive free school meals and if they are already accessing free school bus transport that will also stay in place.
There is support available through the Swindon and Wiltshire Growth Hub. Information is available on the website - Swindon & Wiltshire LEP Growth Hub: Information and support for Ukrainian nationals
Due to the extremely high support shown by the residents of Wiltshire, it was not logistically possible to have a named caseworker for each sponsorship arrangement. However, we have now reviewed this from feedback by hosts and we will now be implementing named caseworkers for each sponsorship arrangement, please email the team at H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk.
This will be a government decision. The Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities has only confirmed the £350 is available for the first 12 months of sponsorship.
Depending on individual circumstances they may be eligible for Universal credit - housing element as well as assistance with the deposit. You can use an independent, free and anonymous benefits calculator to check what you could be entitled to. GOV.UK: Benefits calculators.
If anyone is sharing accommodation all members of the household circumstances and income would be taken into account.
Please advise the Homes for Ukraine team on H4U@wiltshire.gov.uk if you require your guests to leave, it would be really helpful if 2 months' notice could be given to allow time to consider alternative options. The Homes for Ukraine team will call on those who have expressed an interest on the Government's system to see if they can find a sponsor who can provide a home
If there is an immediate need for temporary accommodation Wiltshire Housing Solutions team will look to source temporary accommodation whilst rematch possibilities are investigated if the family is.
It has to be their choice to have a covid vaccination. If they would like to be vaccinated, they can book one online or visit a walk-in site. Details will be placed in the chat.