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Homes for Ukraine Birmingham: Refugee Action statement

By February 7, 2023February 9th, 2023Uncategorized

What has happened?

On Friday 27 January, a Birmingham City Council scrutiny committee met to review the delivery of the Homes for Ukraine programme. It followed a petition from some hosts who were unhappy with the Homes for Ukraine programme, including questions about some parts of Refugee Action’s service delivery.

Following Friday’s meeting, a Task and Finish group will be created by members of the Scrutiny Committee to further review the delivery of the Homes for Ukraine programme.

What has Refugee Action delivered to date?

As it stands Refugee Action and its partners are supporting more than 270 hosts and almost 700 guests in the Homes for Ukraine scheme in Birmingham, working to a ratio of 15 Ukrainian families per caseworker.

Among other services, the team has delivered the following:

  • More than 11,500 direct contacts with Ukrainian refugees including face to face meetings, phone calls, email updates and responses, as well as additional casework advocacy carried out behind the scenes
  • Since full mobilisation and up to the end of January, we have carried out 131 benefits applications (Universal Credit, Child Benefit, Pension Credit) and 83 NINO (National Insurance Number) applications
  • Almost 100 families supported around the complex housing move on process since November, providing all the holistic support needed in relation to this very challenging part of the process
  • We have dealt with 19 highly complex safeguarding incidents
  • We have supported 11 families to rematch with a new host after relationship breakdown, a highly complex area of support involving considerable risks around homelessness, school moves with no certainty that an appropriate new host can be found; a further 6 families currently being supported through this process
  • 32 families supported with immigration legal issues through OISC-regulated immigration legal advice
  • We have issued pre-payment cards to 686 refugees with their initial £200 payment before benefits start.
  • All refugees receive a personal independence plan (PIP) within their first month and then have an updated PIP meeting every three months afterwards.

Feedback from hosts and refugee guests

Most of the hosts and refugees we are supporting have not reported to us that they are unhappy with the services that we and our partners are providing to them.

However, we know that there are some refugees and hosts who have not been happy with the support they have been given. We have acknowledged that there were challenges in rolling out and scaling up our services and things we did not get right in the early stages of the programme. We are also listening to hosts about the need to work with them more and include them more closely in refugee support. We have made this a priority to improve this.

We know it is vital that we listen closely and openly to people who have not been provided with the service they expect and act on their feedback, even if these experiences have not been felt across the programme. It’s only through honest and respectful dialogue that we can improve our service to benefit all refugees.

The challenging context surrounding the programme

The scheme is unprecedented in its size, structure and speed of rollout and had to be built quickly from scratch. Many elements of Homes for Ukraine did not exist in established refugee resettlement schemes, such as the role of the host, the need for housing and DBS checks, and that our caseworkers are not the first point of contact for refugees. It presented new challenges around how to provide joined-up support between Refugee Action and the host, as well new safeguarding risks. All of this was happening while Birmingham was welcoming an unprecedented number of refugees in just a few months.

This was combined with the slow rollout of advice and guidance from central government which meant that by the time we secured the contract in June, we were already playing catch up.

This is of course no excuse and due to the challenges we experienced rolling out services for hosts and refugees in the first few months of the scheme, we will not be paid the full tariff.

A wider and very concerning challenge we’ve been facing recently is that several Refugee Action caseworkers feel that they are being racially discriminated against by some people accessing the service. We are deeply concerned by what we are hearing and are providing tailored support to staff. We are currently building a full picture of this and will be responding accordingly, as we will not tolerate any form of racism directed to Refugee Action staff and volunteers.

Value of the contract

On current numbers the value of the Homes for Ukraine contract is £4.2 million, just over half the £7.2 million figure being quoted. This money is not an upfront sum but delivered over the 18 months of the Homes for Ukraine contract and only on the basis that a refugee stays in the programme for the full 12 months.

Our service model and approach

The safety of the refugees themselves is always our number one priority and our services are focussed on independence building from day one. It’s a model we have developed over 40 years’ experience of refugee resettlement in the UK.

We want to make sure people are fully independent and integrated into their communities as early as possible and do not become dependent on external support beyond their first year in the UK.  For example, we provide employment support through our internal Pathways to Work team or through external employment advice experts to help people become independent as soon as possible.

Refugees do not all have the same needs and so require varying levels of support. Our services are based on equity, which means that people with the greatest need will receive the greater amount of support. On the flipside, there are people who do not feel the need to engage with our services. However, we strive to offer support at the right level to people when and in the way they need.

Next steps

The task and finish group that has been set up by the Scrutiny Committee will run over the next two months. We are hopeful that there will be the opportunity for Refugee Action to fully feed into and engage into the process.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners, with Birmingham City Council and alongside the hosts and refugees as we continue to build, develop, and strengthen a service that supports all refugees to rebuild their lives in safety.