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Ukrainian refugees arriving to find 'mice infested' homes which they're having to share with drug users

By Ruth Mosalski

Ukrainian refugees are arriving in England and being housed in homes infested with rats and mice, without heating and even living with drug users, a Welsh charity boss has said.

Bonnie Williams, director of Housing Justice Cymru, made the claim in evidence to the Senedd's local government and housing committee. She contrasted Wales' more cautious approach with the problems in England - but said there were also major problems in Wales finding homes for refugees because of the shortage of social housing. The waiting list for a home is already 7,000 people long.

As well as individual households in Wales who are offering rooms to refugees from Ukraine, the Welsh Government has committed to taking 1,000 households through the super sponsor scheme. There are currently 670 individuals who have been accepted on that scheme and those who have already arrived are being taken to "welcome centres". These are usually hotels, for a period of around three months from where they will go to either to a host property or a private tenancy. In England they are going straight to homes where checks aren't taking place.

READ MORE: Ukrainian family split up as two get to Wales but five-year-old stranded with no visa

"What we can see in England as people are going straight into those hosting placements, said Ms Williams. "It's really playing out to show that the speed at which central government are doing this is resulting in some really problematic situations.

"People are arriving to find that the accommodation that they have been matched with or are intending to come to is infested with rats and mice, doesn't have any heating, has one very small bedroom for which three of them are expected to sleep in or has a member of the family taking drugs. There are some really worrying issues that's meant people now are going to those hosting placements and found that they're not suitable and central government is now having to look at how to house them."

"I think we can see that the caution that Welsh Government is taking by creating welcome centres is going to be a much safer alternative arrangement. However, I suppose the concentration then comes on making sure that when people are in those Welcome Centres are able to access all the services that they need, and that we're not traumatising traumatised people by moving them again and then when they do go on to the hosting placements, that those have been checked. A home visit would have prevented a huge amount of the problems that we're seeing now."

Every council in Wales will be given £10,500 by Welsh Government to help with the services they need. However, there is a question about whether there is availability in the services themselves to accommodate extra need.

Asked how councils were coping in Wales, she said: "What we're seeing at the moment from local authorities is that some are able, willing and ready because particularly if they've got their own housing stock, they have a significant number of staff who are on the ground in their estates, in and out of properties in that community and are quite well versed on things like home checks and supporting community cohesion issues and vulnerable families. Where a local authority has sold their stock, which is now in a housing association they're less likely to have the capacity to an experience to support this number of new people coming to their areas."

She admitted it is difficult to say how it is going in Wales because it's not the same as in England because people are going to central locations, not individual homes.

"We know that we've already got 7,000 people in temporary accommodation, and we're struggling to accommodate those. We also have Afghanistan families still in temporary or emergency accommodation and we unable to house those at the moment. So my main concern is where the Ukrainian refugees will go whether it's after the three months in the welcome centres, or after the six month hosting placement, because we just know that if we have 7,000 people already that we can't accommodate, how are we going to find what will need to be affordable housing for this increased 1,000 households. We can also see that the numbers in temporary accommodation are continuing to rise at a rate that is not matching, how quickly we're able to rehouse people.

"What we can see is that more than ever, there's a pressure on the supply of affordable homes. So because of the Syrian situation and the Afghanistan situation, and then 'everybody in' where we accommodated thousands of people who previously weren't even registered or known to be homeless, we have a real bottleneck now of people in temporary emergency accommodation needing homes and that's why we're still seeing 7,000 in temporary accommodation and even Afghanistan families that we can't house because there's just not enough homes.

"There are some places where it's harder than others. I think Newport particularly is very difficult, we've seen a migration of people from Bristol, with the lower house rents in Newport. All across Wales we're just finding it very, very difficult to accommodate people, particularly when people are on benefits and the amount of money they're provided with compared to current, private rent and even under 35 rent levels for affordable homes. "

She admitted the current situation is not sustainable.

"While hosting may fill the void until people can find tenancies hosting does bring its own complexities and we haven't necessarily considered all of those in the current arrangements. So it will be interesting to see how we can accommodate the new 1,000 households in addition to the 7,000 and rising that we already have individuals that we already have in temporary accommodation."

The UK Government's Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: "More than 37,400 people have arrived through both 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 potential sponsors are subject to security checks, including criminal records, before visas are approved and applicants are allowed to travel to the UK."

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