In Wirral 266 Ukrainian individuals who have fled war torn Ukraine are being hosted by sponsors (as of 25 July 2022) through the Homes for Ukraine (HFU). This number could increase to as many as 478 refugees who have cited Wirral as their primary destination over the coming months and there is potential for these numbers to continue to increase. There is also an additional unknown number of Ukrainian Refugees that have come to Wirral via the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Ukraine Extension Scheme which are separate to the HFU Scheme and local authorities are not involved in the process. Whilst most of these households are currently in supportive and settled placements, there have been breakdowns in a number of these placements, or within family homes that were not suitable for the number of arrivals.

Even when the placements are more stable, the Ukrainian households will be aspiring to find their own homes as their initial sponsor placements with hosts end. Sponsors participation in the Homes for Ukraine Scheme requires them to provide a placement for a minimum of six months to a Ukrainian guest however they can extend this and receive support for longer. That said, for those guests who have already been in the UK for three months, there is a need to start to plan for their longer-term housing options especially if they can no longer stay with sponsors or wish to move on to longer term accommodation for the rest of their three-year stay in the UK.

This statement seeks to set out the support and options to enable all potential moves to be undertaken in a planned and co-ordinated way wherever possible but recognises that this may not always be the case. In those cases, the statement sets out how Ukrainian guests will be supported where they must leave accommodation quickly if their relationship breaks down with their sponsor

Introduction

The Governments Homes for Ukraine Scheme commenced in March 2022 where households were able to register to become sponsors for Ukrainian households wanting to come to the UK to escape the war in their country.

In common with other Local Authorities, Wirral Council had to mobilise very quickly to undertake property checks, safeguarding and DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks for all potential sponsors to ensure that guests were safe in sponsors homes as well as implementing processes for welfare visits, and ensure that information was available for sponsors and their guests.

Most sponsors receiving guests had little notice or information about what their role might entail, with many sponsors agreeing to come forward due to distressing images of the war in Ukraine, but with no previous experience of hosting guests from another country for a substantial period (six months is the minimum period sponsors must commit to hosting Ukrainian guests).

The government, through Local Authorities provide sponsors with £350 each month (up to 12 months if a Ukraine guest remains in their home) as a thank you payment to incentivise them to offer accommodation, however the sponsor must not charge any rent. As a result, there are no tenancy agreements, and therefore no security of tenure so the Ukrainian guests can be asked to leave without notice, which has been the case with a small number of Ukrainian guests in Wirral.

In Wirral all sponsors are being contacted to firm up their position in terms of accurate timeframes they are prepared to host their Ukraine guests. Whilst there is some data available from the Government (detailed below), it is not complete and does not represent the current position on this.

Period for sponsored guest(s) to remain in the property Total number of households Total number of guests
6 to 9 months 53 109
10 to 12 months 19 34
More than 12 months 30 55

NB: there are still a proportion of sponsor placements where officers are working to establish this information.

Demand and existing housing context

The pressure on housing in Wirral for homeless cases or those needing to move to more appropriate affordable accommodation is unprecedented. As of 29th July, there were 339 Homeless cases already needing accommodation, with a further 437 cases that have presented to housing options for support and advice where their assessment is yet to be completed. All the cases that come through the housing options service will be considered for re housing in either the social or private rented sector. In addition, 15,673 applicants were registered on PPP (Property Pool Plus) as of 30 June 2022, with 2,787 of those being in priority need.

To give some context in terms of how many properties do come available in the social housing sector:

  • As of 1 April 2021, the borough had a total of 23,511 social housing sector homes which equates to 15.36% of all homes in Wirral.
  • During 2021/22 a total of 874 properties were advertised as available for let in the borough (equating to 3.7% of the total social sector stock) and of those, an average of 105 expression of interest bids per property.

Of those 874 properties advertised:

Number of bedrooms Number of properties advertised as available for let Average expression of interest bids per property
1 bedroom 327 99
2 bedrooms 350 105
3 bedrooms 188 113
4 bedrooms 9 151

The private rented sector also does offer an additional opportunity for rehousing albeit this needs to be placed in the context of the supply and demand which is also great, with a sharp rise in the demand for the private sector since the lifting of the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the private sector as a rehousing option is recognised and will be suitable and/or the aspiration of some households, we need to ensure that rehousing options for households are affordable for the long term.

Whilst it is recognised that waiting times for affordable social sector homes are considerable, and there is considerable competition for properties that are advertised, this statement seeks to maximise the offer of accommodation from sponsors for as long as possible and explore the potential to access accommodation in the private and social sector along with the support packages to enable this.

Section A: Options for planned rehousing moves

All Ukrainian households have a dedicated Resettlement Support Officer allocated upon arrival to support with advice, signposting, and support. This officer will continue to support households both during their sponsor placement and where mutually agreed and if needed, when they have moved into alternative accommodation after their initial placement ends. It is through this officer, along with the support of rehousing staff, that discussions will take place regarding the future options which may be available to Ukrainians at the point of their six-month review with their sponsor.

These options will include:

1. Opportunity to remain with their existing sponsor if that sponsor is willing and able to extend the arrangement. If the sponsor does, then they will continue to receive the government monthly £350 thank you payment (up to a total of 12 payments) along with ongoing support from the council’s Resettlement Support Officers

  • If the placement is to continue for another six months the Resettlement Support Officer will, if required, assist in drafting an informal agreement between sponsor and guest to set out any specific conditions for the placement continuing.
  • The Officer will continue to liaise and support both the sponsor and guests throughout that period and this support and engagement will be tailored to their needs. As a minimum the Resettlement Support Officer will contact both sponsor and guest monthly to ensure the success of the placement.
  • The Resettlement Support Officer will continue at all contacts, to discuss options for longer term housing and will and work with sponsors and their guests to see if there is an option for a further extension beyond the 12-month period (this may be the case more so where placements are in self-contained homes). Where this is practical the Resettlement Support Officer will advise on how this could be formalised into a rent paying arrangement with a tenancy agreement. This approach will ensure the council is responsive to any changes that may occur to placements and get a clear understanding of whether sponsors see their existing placement as a longer term or permanent option for Ukrainian guests.
  • If extension of an existing sponsorship placement is not possible and must end at the point which the sponsor had initially confirmed they could support a placement e.g., 12 months after the guest's arrival, the Resettlement Support Officer will then work with sponsors and their guest on the following alternative longer term rehousing options.

2. If Ukrainian guests have not already been registered on Property Pool Plus when they arrived in the borough, they will be supported to register so that they are able to bid for any potential homes that do become available in the social housing sector

  • All Ukrainian individuals who have arrived in the borough through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, will be encouraged and supported by the council, if they wish to do so, to register with Property Pool Plus which is the council's housing register for social housing.
  • For new arrivals this will be offered at the first wellness visit following initial arrival. For those who have arrived early in the programme, where this has not been done already, the council will be arrange for this option to be explained and explored with the Ukrainian guests. Priority to Register on Property Pool Plus will be given to those who have arrived the earliest in the borough as these will be the households who may have to exit their sponsor placement first.
  • This approach will allow guests to be registered in a timely manner in preparation for when they do need or want to consider a move and will also enable them to work with a nominated council officer to proactively bid for any opportunities which arise that would resolve their long-term accommodation needs.
  • In line with the existing allocations policy, any household who falls within the Homes for Ukraine Scheme will be allocated a Band B priority during the period they are in a sponsor household.
  • Where it has already been identified that a sponsor placement must end after the initial six-month period, or the agreed timescale the sponsor originally accepted the Ukrainian guest for, Resettlement Support Officers will already have been supporting the guests to register on Property Pool Plus and actively bid for any suitable accommodation opportunities that arise. In addition, the Homes for Ukraine team will also be monitoring opportunities which arise in the social housing sector through Property Pool Plus to ensure these opportunities which meet guests rehousing needs are identified and suggest those opportunities to Resettlement Support Officers for cases.
  • It is important that Ukrainian guests are very flexible about the areas and type of accommodation they would consider moving to as homes in the social housing sector are in extremely short supply and are often not available in the areas that Ukrainian guests currently live in.

3. Support to find and access the private rented sector

  • Three months before the end of a placement if the sponsor can assist and the Private Rented Sector is an affordable option, then the allocated Resettlement Support Officer for the guests will complete a review to establish if any additional support is needed from the council to assist with tenancy sign up, including where required:
  • rent deposit
  • credit checks / tenancy sign up fees
  • rent in advance
  • furniture package
  • Potential top ups in exceptional circumstances
  • support with references
  • moving costs
  • In additional to the furniture package, the maximum financial assistance that will be given is up to £1000 per tenancy which reflects the increased costs of the ‘up-front’ tenancy costs in the private rented sector.
  • The sponsor / Resettlement Support Officer will support guests to register with local letting agents, look on Rightmove to identify suitable properties. In addition, the Homes for Ukraine team will also continually review availability of accommodation in the private rented sector through these means to keep up to date and suggest opportunities to Resettlement Support Officers for cases.
  • Once a property has been found, prior to sign-up, an officer from the council’s Housing Standards Team will inspect the property to ensure it is free from hazards.

Section B: Sponsorship Breakdowns

Resettlement Support Officers are in place to work with both the sponsor and Ukraine guest(s) to ensure the longer-term sustainability of the placement. Part of this role is to risk assess placements and proactively work with sponsors and their guest(s) to both mediate and identify solutions to resolve issues if they arise. This approach is tailored to the needs of each case and may include referrals to other appropriate professionals and services to support the longer-term sustainability of the placement.

Not all situations however can be predicted or planned for and on occasion, there will be circumstances where placements are either not sustainable for the timeframe they had originally been planned to cover or they break down very quickly and either the sponsor will ask the guest(s) to leave, or the Ukrainian guests will choose to leave themselves.

It is important to differentiate between sponsorship placements breaking down and guests cannot stay, with situations where a guest chooses to leave without just cause and where they have no alternative housing in place. In the latter circumstance the Ukrainian guest may be making themselves intentionally homeless. Guests should always discuss any potential move with their Resettlement Support Officer prior to leaving.

Proactive Response to sponsor breakdowns

Mediation and Support

It is acknowledged there can be difficulties between hosts and guests who have not known each other previously, especially where they may be from diverse cultural backgrounds. The Resettlement Support Officers will offer mediation where there may have been disagreements, or there are differences of opinion or a breakdown in communication between sponsors and their guests and so it is important in the first instance, for either party to contact their Resettlement Support Officer who will mediate on behalf of both parties and provide appropriate translation services. They can help to agree ‘house rules’ so both parties are clear about expectations or can bring in specialist services if required.

It is important to acknowledge that unplanned moves are distressing for both guests and their sponsors and there are extremely limited options for providing short term accommodation in those circumstances. Pressure on accessing these short-term options is increasing continually because there are a substantial number of homeless cases in Wirral who also need access to temporary housing.

Guests are encouraged to not leave their existing placements without discussing the reasons for this with both their sponsor and their dedicated Resettlement Support Officer so that appropriate planned solutions can be progressed (those options are identified in Section A of this Rehousing Statement).

Where these options have been exhausted and sponsor breakdown has happened, guests and their sponsors will be encouraged to agree a timeframe in conjunction with Wirral Council officers for an alternative rehousing solution to be secured, enabling the guest to remain where they are in the short term, if it is safe to do so.

Short Term temporary accommodation

Where a Ukrainian guest must leave a sponsor home immediately, the council will secure alternative temporary accommodation until a longer-term rehousing resolution can be found. Temporary accommodation will be provided through one of the following sources:

  • placement with an alternative short-term sponsor;
    Wirral Council is working through a list of potential sponsors to identify those who may consider providing a short term or long-term placement for Ukraine guests.
  • placement in hotel for a brief period;
  • in exceptional circumstances, placement may be in council dispersed managed temporary accommodation (this will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will only be if appropriate vacancies exist, because whilst the council does have access to a limited amount of this type of accommodation, there are significant pressures on this, and units are very rarely vacant).

Long Term placements

Only where Ukrainian guests have not been able to secure any available rehousing options within 56 days of their sponsor placement ending, a referral will be made to the council’s Housing Options Team where a formal application under Homeless Legislation can be made. At this stage, a personalised Housing plan will be agreed with actions for both the council and Ukrainian household to undertake. At the end of this period a further review of their PPP priority banding will be undertaken. Support from Resettlement Support Officers will still be provided throughout this process to help households navigate options.

Placement in any form of temporary accommodation is not a long-term solution and the council wants to ensure that individuals are suitably supported to access more long-term options for accommodation if they wish to remain in Wirral. Each case will be considered based on the needs identified and solutions tailored appropriately.

Longer term options will continue to be developed over time as work continues to review this. Currently the long-term options available include:

1. Rematching with a Homes for Ukraine Sponsor

This option is the preferred route for individuals who have already been part of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. This is primarily because of the limited availability of other affordable accommodation in the borough and the significant cost of rental opportunities in the private rented sector.

Wirral Council will ensure there is a pool of readily available sponsors who have had all government required property and person checks completed and their availability confirmed for appropriate emergency or long-term placements.

To encourage and support this vital role, the Refugee Hosting Co-ordinator will arrange for contact to be made weekly with these sponsors to ensure the council has an up-to-date position on when these hosts are able to take placements, for how long and who they are happy to accommodate. Where appropriate and on a case-by-case basis, emergency placement hosts will be offered up to £100 per week for the first two weeks they have an emergency placement in their home. After that they would be entitled to the governments normal monthly £350 thank you payment as part of the wider Homes for Ukraine scheme.

In some circumstances it may be possible for sponsors to agree to host guests on a more formal long-term basis.

Where self-contained accommodation is offered, there will be an expectation that the guests will be offered an Assured Shorthold Tenancy and that rent levels will be affordable, i.e., in line with Wirral’s Local Housing Allowance (LHA) Rates 

The council will provide support and advice to sponsors to set up tenancies in these circumstances where owners are new to the legislation regarding private rentals. If required, the council will fund gas and electrical safety checks which are legally required.

If a sponsor has been hosting a guest in one or more rooms within their property, they may also want to continue this arrangement on a rental basis. This arrangement would need to be within Local Housing Allowance rates and any new tenancy should comply with all relevant legislation.

2. Securing a tenancy in the Social Housing Sector

As detailed previously, all Ukrainian individuals who have arrived in the borough through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, will have been encouraged and supported by the council, if they wish to do so, to register with Property Pool Plus which is the council’s housing register for social housing.

In line with the existing allocations policy, any household who falls within the Homes for Ukraine Scheme will be allocated a Band B priority during the period they are in a sponsor household.

Where it has already been identified that a sponsor placement must end after the initial six-month period, or the agreed timescale the sponsor originally accepted the Ukrainian guest for is being shortened, Resettlement Support Officers will already have been supporting the guests to register on Property pool Plus and actively bid for any suitable accommodation opportunities that arise. In addition, the Homes for Ukraine team will also be monitoring opportunities which arise in the social housing sector through Property Pool Plus to ensure these opportunities which meet guests rehousing needs are identified and suggest those opportunities to Resettlement Support Officers for cases.

It is important that Ukrainian guests are very flexible about the areas and type of accommodation they would consider moving to as homes in the social housing sector are in extremely short supply and are often not available in the areas that Ukrainian guests currently live in.

3. Securing a tenancy in the Private Rented sector

Three months before the end of a placement if the sponsor can assist and the Private Rented Sector is an affordable option, then the allocated Resettlement Support Officer for the guests will complete a review to establish if any additional support is needed from the council to assist with tenancy sign up, including where required:

  • rent deposit
  • credit checks / tenancy sign up fees
  • rent in advance
  • furniture package
  • Potential top ups in exceptional circumstances
  • support with references
  • moving costs

In additional to the furniture package, the maximum financial assistance that will be given is up to £1000 per tenancy which reflects the increased costs of the ‘up-front’ tenancy costs in the private rented sector.

The sponsor and Resettlement Support Officer will support guests to register with local letting agents, look on Rightmove to identify suitable properties. In addition, the Homes for Ukraine team will also continually review availability of accommodation in the private rented sector through these means to keep up to date and suggest opportunities to Resettlement Support Officers for cases.

Once a property has been found, prior to sign-up, an officer from the council’s Housing Standards Team will inspect the property to ensure it is free from hazards.

4. Direct matches via Registered Providers of offer of accommodation for extremely vulnerable cases.

In cases where clients are particularly vulnerable or their accommodation needs are more complex, (for example they need adapted accommodation due to mobility needs) and extended stays in hotel accommodation would have a significant impact on their health or wellbeing, efforts will also be made to find a direct match for accommodation through registered providers.

Updated August 2022