More than 30 Somerset homes to be purchased for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
16th Mar 2023 | Local News
More than 30 homes across Somerset will be purchased using public money to house Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
As part of its various refugee resettlement schemes, the government has created the local authority housing fund (LAHF), which provides £500m to UK councils to "obtain and refurbish" properties for refugees up to March 2024.
Somerset County Council has committed £7.5m towards acquiring 31 properties across the county for this purpose, with just under half the funding coming from central government.
The properties will be either three- or four-bedroom homes and will be purchased gradually over the comings months.
Details of the purchases were published ahead of a meeting of the council's executive committee in Taunton on Wednesday morning (March 15).
There are currently six resettled Afghan families (including 15 adults and 17 children) in the county, placed in three of the four districts – with a further nine families expected to arrive in the next 12 months.
There are 1,417 Ukrainian "guests" who arrived in Somerset through the Homes for Ukraine scheme, hosted by 745 Somerset residents – with the council pledging to support a further ten families in the next year.
The majority of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees are currently housed in temporary accommodation (e.g. bed-and-breakfast), and while Afghan refugees have "indefinite leave to remain", Ukrainian refugees have been issued with three-year visas.
While the council has not divulged the specific locations where these refugees are being housed, it has disclosed that "the greatest number of households are in the Somerset West and Taunton district, and particularly around Taunton."
The 31 properties which will be purchased with this new government funding will be spread across three districts – with Somerset West and Taunton expected to provide 16 homes, Mendip providing eight and Sedgemoor the remaining seven.
The majority of the homes in each district will be three-bedroom properties, with just four across the area being four-bedrooms.
Each of the homes will be purchased at market price, ensuring that existing affordable housing stocks are not diminished, and will be managed as part of the housing stock of the new unitary Somerset Council, which assumes control on April 1.
Of the £7.5m budgeted to purchase and refurbish these homes, £3,368,000 comes from the LAHF and the remaining £3,832,000 from the council's own capital programme, which was approved by councillors in late-February.
Chris Brown, the council's assistant director for development and regeneration, said: "Market factors and the impact of workforce uplift at Hinkley Point C have led to a significant uplift in the price of accommodation for purchase and for private rent.
"The new council holds duties to some households who are homeless or facing homelessness. The government has recently extended the duty to house some households which this fund is designed to support.
"The use of this fund could help manage homeless duty pressures by introducing new supply through capital investment. This will replace insecure and expensive bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which can be as high as £1000 per week.
"Recent experience, including the district councils' responses to the 'everybody in' directive of the government [during the coronavirus pandemic] reinforced that many residents are supportive of initiatives to support the most vulnerable.
"The programme offers an early opportunity to use our combined expertise to deliver positive outcomes for Somerset."