By Matthew Spencer, Account Executive
With an impending crisis and urgent need, the Government has announced that £5 million for local councils will be available to help Afghan refugees entering the UK through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.
The scheme is for locally employed Afghan staff who have worked for the UK government in roles which could have exposed their identities and placed them at risk. Now, councils across the country can apply for top-up money from the Afghan (LES) Locally Employed Staff Housing Costs Fund to help them meet the costs of renting properties for those that need help with housing. This includes providing larger homes for families.
The Government has separately announced a new resettlement scheme for Afghans called the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme. This will rehome up to 5,000 Afghan citizens in the first year of operation, with a view to rehoming 20,000 in the long-term. But no central funding has been announced to match the commitment.
So, how quickly are councils coming forward to help? And do they even have the resources to help?
Taking Surrey as an example, a number of district and borough councils have already stepped up and committed to housing some of the refugees that the Government has pledged to accommodate.
Cllr Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council, has said that Surrey is a welcoming county, and the council will do all it can to help.
Surrey Heath announced only last week, on 18 August, that they are ready to rehome five families, while Reigate and Banstead, Runnymede, Elmbridge, Woking and Spelthorne Borough Councils have all committed to rehousing families.
As expected, not all councils have been able to commit to rehousing families due to housing pressures and uncertainty over available funding and a shortage of accommodation. We understand that Guildford Borough Council is one authority in such a position. However, Cllr Julia McShane, Lead Councillor for Community on Guildford Borough Council has reaffirmed that: “Whatever happens we will be creating safe spaces for refugees in Guildford.”
The Government needs local authorities to rise to the task and every borough and district council across the country must pull together. Despite local housing pressures and stretched finances, Surrey has already sought to proactively find a solution but more will need to be done.
However, this is a complex issue and with funding for local authorities becoming increasingly stretched, the desire to help may be tempered by a lack of resources, or a perception that refugees may not fit in well. Surrey has made an opening offer – but urgent Government help is needed if Surrey and the country are able to find homes for the Afghans arriving here.
To find out more on how the Government plans to help relocate Afghan refugees, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghan-relocations-and-assistance-policy/afghan-relocations-and-assistance-policy-information-and-guidance.
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