A better welcome

As councils continue to support new arrivals from Ukraine, changes are being made to the wider asylum system.

With the war in Ukraine continuing, I know councils around the country are working hard to welcome new arrivals and support local residents who have opened their homes to them.

Councils also continue to support arrivals from Afghanistan and Syria, and the LGA has been lobbying for improvements to the broader asylum system. Just before Easter, the Government wrote to council leaders and chief executives to announce its plans for a new system of ‘full dispersal’, under which all regions will be expected to take a share of asylum seekers needing housing.

The announcement responded to our long-standing calls for change, including a commitment to providing specific funding to recognise the contribution of local authorities and to work with councils to develop plans to widen dispersal.

The ‘full dispersal’ model aims to reduce the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers – currently, more than 25,000 are thought to be housed this way.

It would allow the Home Office to procure dispersal properties within the private rental sector in all local authority areas across England, Wales and Scotland, rather than the minority of councils that currently participate.

The Government has committed to working with local government to capture and evaluate data to understand the impact of asylum dispersal on councils.

We will continue our work to ensure local government is involved in shaping a fairer distribution of asylum seekers and that the system is appropriately funded.

In the meantime, we continue to work closely with councils to understand the ongoing issues with the Ukrainian resettlement schemes and feed the information into the Government.

These include the need for clarity around accommodation checks under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and on how new arrivals can be rematched with sponsors if matches under the scheme break down or family arrangements under the Ukraine Family Scheme do not work out.

I was able to highlight and praise your work in getting checks right and keeping people safe on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – and flagged that accommodation and safeguarding checks are not holding up the approval of visas for new arrivals by the Government.

As you will have read previously, the Government has updated guidance to councils on Homes for Ukraine, confirming that councils have local discretion on accommodation checks, and that funding for new arrivals and their sponsors will be paid to county councils in two-tier areas. We are also in discussions with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and the voluntary sector around how rematching could work.

We know councils need a clear and quick process to enable re-matches if sponsor arrangements break down or are unsafe, both before and after arrival.

The British public has been very generous in making offers to sponsor people, and councils are rightly keen to work with this pool of people so that new arrivals are rematched as quickly as possible when needed.

Rematching across both Homes for Ukraine and the Ukraine Family Scheme would put councils in the best position to ensure new arrivals do not end up in temporary accommodation.

Having lobbied over the past few weeks for better access to data for all councils, DLUHC has confirmed that all councils are now able to access Homes for Ukraine data specific to their area using the online Foundry system.

The LGA and councils are keen to continue working with the Government and the community, faith and voluntary sector, and other local partners, to build a process at pace and scale for both the current phase of support for Ukrainian arrivals and for the end of sponsorship arrangements.

We also continue to stress the need for clear and systematic engagement with local government that tackles the real-time challenges councils are having to work through, with many thanks to those who are already representing their councils and their region.

Please continue to share your thoughts and any issues you may be experiencing in respect of Homes for Ukraine and support for new arrivals with your LGA principal adviser. We are also keen to share examples of the huge amount of work councils are putting in place locally to welcome families into your communities on our Ukraine hub.

Despite all these challenges, thank you for all the work you and your staff are doing with your partners and your communities to ensure families are safe and made welcome in your local areas.

“The British public has been very generous in making offers to sponsor people

Heightened cyber threat

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has included cyber attacks aimed at the Ukrainian government and banking sector. Western intelligence has warned that more attacks are likely to come.

In addition to guidance on the heightened cyber threat, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has a board toolkit to support essential conversations between senior leaders and their technical experts.

Councillors have a hugely important role to play in showing political leadership and initiating useful conversations around how councils are approaching and managing cyber risk.

In addition to keeping up to date with NCSC advice and threat information, you may want to speak to your officers to understand the cyber risk – see a recent first article containing some strategic considerations and questions you may want to ask.

You can also access the LGA’s cyber security support offer, including the LGA Cyber 360 programme and funding for officer training.

Anti-slavery safeguarding

Protecting Ukrainian refugees from the risk of trafficking and being exploited on their arrival in the UK is a priority for councils, and something the LGA is focusing on in our discussions with the Government.

Councils may wish to draw on various workers’ rights materials developed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, while the anti-trafficking charity Hope for Justice has collated a suite of useful materials. You can access LGA resources at the modern slavery page on the LGA website.

Homes for Ukraine matching service

National charities, including Reset, Refugees at Home, and Citizens UK, are developing a process to assess applicants’ suitability and eligibility for the scheme to allow Ukrainians to be matched with UK sponsors.

This ‘phase two’ of the scheme will run in parallel with the current individual level matching and will then be rolled out to other accredited organisations.

Reset is also providing a training service for sponsors, councils and community groups, with DLUHC providing an initial grant of £300,000 to help design the matching process and pilot the service. Please do share any experiences you have of this next phase of the matching process with your LGA principal adviser.

European match-making platform

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe has launched an online match-making platform, bringing together councils in Ukraine with councils across the rest of Europe to coordinate a response to the Russian invasion.

The platform is focused on providing immediate humanitarian assistance and aims to help to build longer-term partnerships through technical assistance during the rebuilding and reconstruction of Ukrainian municipalities.

It will potentially meet a need, already expressed by some councils, to help municipalities in Ukraine with different forms of technical assistance that can be provided from the UK. English councils need to satisfy themselves that they have the legal powers to provide the support they want to provide to Ukraine, and each council should seek their own legal advice on what legislation allows them to do.

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