Watchdog praises 'speed' of Homes for Ukraine scheme delivery but warns of data gaps

NAO says decisions by DLUHC have “inhibited its understanding of how the scheme is operating", including numbers who have become homeless
Photo: ronstik/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

17 Oct 2023

The government cannot accurately say how many Ukrainians face homelessness in the UK because the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities only required local authorities provide certain data on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, a watchdog has warned.

In a report released today, the National Audit Office says the government “moved at speed” to temporarily support Ukrainians seeking refuge from the war with Russia, supporting 131,000 arrivals in the UK since March 2022 using £2.1bn in funding. It also praises the government for “giving early consideration to the risks of the scheme and putting in place structures to manage them from the outset”.

But the watchdog has raised concerns about DLUHC’s decision to only stipulate that local authorities provide certain data, saying this has “inhibited its understanding of how the scheme is operating”. DLUHC chose not to mandate some data collections to “reduce the administrative burden on local authorities”, the report says. 

As a result, DLUHC “does not have accurate data regarding the numbers of Ukrainians who have become homeless following their sponsorship ending” and is also missing a reliable data picture in several other areas, according to the NAO.

The main data platform for the scheme, provided by tech firm Palantir, enables certain key scheme data to be shared between DLUHC, the Home Office and local authorities, including on the movement of Ukrainians post-arrival. But the decision not to make it mandatory for local authorities to report all data,  which the NAO says was partly due to the system "confusing" some councils, means “some local authorities continue to report inconsistently”, the report says.

Around 30% of English local authorities have regularly not provided homelessness data on the scheme to DLUHC. By the end of August 2023, local authorities had reported to DLUHC that 4,890 households in England on Homes for Ukraine visas had been homeless or come within 56 days of being homeless, 8% of the 65,117 households in England using the visas. But the watchdog said this “likely understates the true picture, as approximately one third of local authorities are not providing homelessness data to DLUHC and the risk of homelessness is likely to increase as sponsorships end”.

Additionally, since the start of 2023, at any one time, roughly 600-800 Ukrainian households have been living in temporary accommodation in England but DLUHC does not know how many of these households are on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The NAO has also raised data collection concerns over safeguarding.

The report says DLUHC and the Home Office “recognised safeguarding as one of the biggest potential risks in the scheme and put in place checks on potential sponsors as well as Ukrainians” but warns over data gaps.

Data recorded by local authorities on DLUHC’s main data system shows that out, of around 66,000 safeguarding checks completed by September 2023, around 2,500 were marked as failed – though not all of these will be due to a safeguarding issue as, for example, some local authorities record failures if a sponsor withdrew from the application. However, DLUHC does not know the true number of safeguarding checks that were marked as failed due to the gaps in data collected.

A Safeguarding Strategic Advisory Board (SSAB), put in place by the joint-DLUHC-Home Office taskforce which runs the Homes For Ukraine scheme, has also called for the government to improve the data available to monitor safeguarding issues “where possible”.

SSAB panels on adult harm and child harm said the data and evidence on these risks are “limited” and recommended the department “work to improve the data picture it has on safeguarding issues where possible”.

The NAO found similar data gaps on how many Ukrainians were rematched due to safeguarding issues and how many arrived at host accommodation before all safeguarding checks were completed.

In January 2023, the SSAB made 14 recommendations to try to strengthen the controls around safeguarding, all of which were accepted by the taskforce, with improving safeguarding one of the key themes. The taskforce found the taskforce had implemented 10 of its recommendations by July 2023.

The report urges government to “carefully monitor key risks, such as safeguarding, and the threat of homelessness as sponsorships end”, the report says.

The visas for the first Ukrainians to arrive under the scheme will expire in Spring 2025, and it is not yet clear whether government intends to extend existing three-year visas. The government also needs to decide whether to extend funding for local authorities and sponsors, which currently finishes before visas expire.

IT system 'confusing to use’ for some councils

The report sets out that a key reason for the data gaps was the speed at which the IT system to administer the scheme was rolled out.

In order to set the scheme up quickly, DLUHC accepted an offer from Palantir to provide the IT system for free for six months. But the NAO said the speed of the deployment meant that it had not carried out the usual testing before it went live, and some local authorities found it “confusing to use”. Following the initial six-month period, DLUHC directly awarded a 12-month contract in September 2022 worth £4.5 million. This was extended again in September 2023 for a further 12 months at a cost of £5.5m.

DLUHC and Palantir have since resolved many of the initial problems with the system, according to the report, but DLUHC has not mandated that local authorities use it, and “consequently DLUHC recognises it does not have complete data on some aspects of the scheme”.

A government spokesperson said: “Following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, we acted quickly to launch Homes for Ukraine to bring families at risk to safety as fast as possible.

“We welcome the NAO’s recognition that the government has successfully supported 131,000 Ukrainians to come to the UK under the scheme, meeting our objective of helping to bring Ukrainians to safety.’ We are grateful to the extraordinary generosity of sponsors across the UK, as well as the hard work of local councils, volunteers and charities.

“We will provide an update on the future of the scheme well before the first visas expire.”

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