A Dorchester family hosting two Ukrainian families have spoken of the “shameful disgrace” of the Home Office visa system - but the warm welcome for the refugees in the county town.

Giles Watts told the Dorset Council meeting on Thursday that ongoing problems with the visa system had massively increased the stress levels for the women and children with one visa only being granted shortly before their flight to the UK was due to leave.

He said both families, with three children between them under eight, had seen their home city of Kharkiv largely destroyed by Russian forces and had spent their first week cowering in an unlit cellar beneath a barber’s shop before escaping to Poland.

“The families arrived in Dorchester on Friday after a five-week struggle to obtain visas – the last visa for the eight-year-old boy was not granted until Wednesday evening just hours before flying. The stress levels have been very high and our first hand experience of the Home Office’s visa system has been a shameful disgrace.”

He said that despite the shaky start the welcome and local support in Dorset had been “fabulous and heart warming” with many offers of help and assistance.

“School places are our first priority and we were surprised that schools have not been provided with any additional resources and many are already full. We have been incredibly lucky. The Prince of Wales School in Dorchester under their inspirational head, Gary Spracklen, agreed to take in the children immediately, and has provided them with free second hand school uniforms and allocated them with school meals out of their own budget until universal credit is confirmed.

“For the mothers, the next stage may prove to be even more difficult. They need to sign up for medical and dental services and they need a bank account before they can apply for universal credit and child benefit which we have been informed will take at least 6 weeks and may require originals of documents they do not have. Until then, they will have almost no funds coming in. To work, they must also apply for a National Security number which we hear can be very tricky and time-consuming.”

Portfolio holder Cllr Laura Miller said the council had been coordinating pupil admissions and 27 schools across the county had welcomed children or are in the process of doing so. She said the council was grateful to them and to the local families who were hosting those fleeing from Ukraine.

She said there was a separate funding scheme for schools and early years places and the council was doing all that it could to release the funding as children arrived.

This amounted to £3,000 per child for Early Years settings for children accepting children aged 2 to 4 years; £6,580 per child for primary schools and £8,755 per child for secondary schools.

Government funding is only available for those arriving under the Homes for Ukraine scheme with no funding for those who arrive through family connections, or privately in other ways.

Cllr Miller said the council received £10,500 for each refugee arriving through the Homes for Ukraine scheme and this was being used to - Undertaking the suitability checks for hosts including accommodation and criminal record checks; set up call centres and administer payments to hosts; make interim payments to guests; offer guest welfare checks through in person visits once; meet any care or support needs; help refugees settle if they wish to remain here;  support voluntary and community organisations which are supporting hosts and guests and supporting integration.

When contacted about comments raised in the meeting, the Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, said: “In as little as two months we have issued over 102,000 visas, helping Ukrainians displaced from their home country to come to the UK to live, work, study and find stability here.

“Our uncapped Ukraine Schemes were set up in record time and are one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history. We have been working hard to streamline the process, including simplifying the forms and boosting staff numbers, and we are rapidly moving towards reaching my aim of processing visas within 48-hours.”