Growing numbers of refugees are being made homeless, and in many cases destitute, after relationship breakdowns with their Homes for Ukraine hosts in the UK, community organisations have said.
Some predict the system could crash entirely after reports of Ukrainian refugees being asked to leave the homes of their sponsors with only one day’s notice, leaving them with no option but to be referred to local authorities as homeless or, if they can afford to, attempt to seek last-minute rented accommodation.
Community leaders said such incidents were happening among typically well-meaning hosts who may have failed to anticipate the enormity of the commitment until refugees arrived in their homes, adding to the stress and trauma of the newcomers.
Other factors cited include costs, personality and cultural clashes, hosts not setting house rules, misunderstandings and communication problems.
Iryna Terlecky, a board member of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said: “Our community is seeing these cases frequently and our perception is that they’re increasing.”
They also report similar issues among those who arrived on the Ukraine family scheme – either caused by space problems or relationship breakdowns. “We are finding that sponsorship relationships are breaking down – in spite of the very clear desire of people to help,” Terlecky said.
A 43-year-old Ukrainian woman told the Guardian she was left homeless, terrified and not knowing where to turn after being asked to leave by her Homes for Ukraine hosts after little more than a week.
After Russia’s invasion she fled her 22nd-floor flat in Kyiv for Spain but she found it difficult to find work. She met her UK hosts, a couple from Exeter, on Facebook who arranged her flights and documentation.
At first, she said, they all got on well and she felt “loved and cared for”. But their dynamic shifted dramatically when she went to visit a man she had met online. Her hosts have accused her of lying.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” she said, speaking from emergency council accommodation in a hotel. “You feel really happy, loved and cared for and then you feel like you’ve been thrown from a high-rise building to the ground.”
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association said there had been a “concerning increase” in Ukrainian arrivals presenting as homeless, and it urgently called for a rematching process so refugees were not left in limbo. Government sources told the Observer they were working on a “rematching” service.
Marta Mulyak, who has hosted several Ukrainian families since the start of the war and is chair of 1st London Plast, a Ukrainian Scout group, said: “A lot of people say, ‘Of course I can give a room to a Ukrainian’. But then bills, cost of food – people maybe don’t think about that until they have come.”
Many newly arrived refugees are still experiencing the trauma of having lived in a war zone. Mulyak has seen children fall to the floor after mistaking a loud noise for a bomb. “The Homes for Ukraine scheme has a lot of problems and eventually will lead to a total crash,” she said.
Anya Abdulakh, from Families4Peace, a charity helping Ukrainians in north London, said she was recently contacted by a woman who came to the UK with her daughter to live with a woman she met on Facebook.
But when they arrived, the host was going through a divorce and it transpired that she was a strict vegetarian who did not want meat in the house – leading to tension. “The situation now is that she [the host] wants her to move as quickly as possible,” she said.
Sara Nathan, the co-founder of Refugees at Home, expects the problems with the scheme to “stay quite acute for some time” – especially once placements hit six months, the minimum time hosts must commit to.
A Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these claims – more than 46,100 people have arrived through both Ukraine schemes and the vast majority of these are settling in well.
“There are stringent safeguarding measures in place for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and, according to council data reports, very few of these sponsorships are breaking down. Where they do, councils are able to provide support or find a more suitable sponsor.”