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Help for Ukrainian refugees

Millions of people have fled the war in Ukraine. The government has three schemes which have brought over 100,000 Ukrainians to the UK. This page, which gives general information as well as specific details on housing and benefits issues, is updated regularly.

Last updated: Aug 12, 2022.

Homes for Ukraine

For Ukrainians with no ties to the UK, the Homes for Ukraine (HFU) scheme allows them to be sponsored by individuals or local authorities so that they can receive accommodation and support. Scotland and Wales are part of the scheme. The scheme expects to accommodate 200,000 Ukrainians: individuals and groups can register here as potential sponsors. Initially the scheme focuses on individual sponsors but will later extend to hotels, religious charities, etc. There is a page of FAQs on the scheme (updated July 29, with versions in Ukrainian and Russian) and separate guidance for sponsors (July 15).

Up August 8, around 123,000 visas had been issued under the HFU scheme; 79,000 people had actually arrived here. The data include numbers at local authority level, according to the sponsor's location. A 'heat map' prepared by an MP shows a strong concentration in the south and in rural areas (with implications for homelessness demands at alater stage).

There is no limit on numbers providing people have matched sponsors. Ukrainians who want to be sponsored apply for a visa under the scheme (those going to Scotland/Wales could select 'the Scottish [or Welsh] Government' as their sponsor, but this arrangement is temporarily suspended). Those arriving are initially granted leave for six months and are able to work and access public services. They can then apply online to be given up to three years' leave. Unaccompanied children can also use the scheme.

City of Sanctuary UK has a list of practical things for potential hosts to consider before applying to sponsor Ukrainian guests. There are concerns about the risks of human trafficking and warnings from the UN refugee agency of sexual exploitation. The Charity Commission issued a warning about possible sexual exploitation. The Scottish Government introduced new rules to make enhanced safeguarding checks on those providing accommodation for Ukrainian refugees in Scotland.

A coalition of anti-slavery and human rights groups has lwebsite for Ukrainian refugees in the UK, aimed at keeping them safe from trafficking and helping them adjust to their new home. Ukrainians Welcome is available in Ukrainian, English and Russian.

Guidance for local authorities

The government guidance (latest version August 5) for local authorities covers their role, funding arrangements, data sharing arrangements, rematching where a sponsor arrangement breaks down, the future of the scheme and other details. There is information about required safeguarding and accommodation checks, including suggested minimum accommodation standards and how handle issues that arise. There is additional guidance for councils on assisting unaccompanied children.

Separate guidance is provided for local authorities in Scotland and Wales. The LGA has good practice examples of accommodation checks by local authorities and of local partnerships to support refugees. Northern Ireland also has guidance to the HFU scheme. The refugees minister and officials gave evidence to the LUHC Select Commoittee on June 29 about progress with the scheme and arrangements after the six month periods end (e.g. sponsors are being asked to extend their sponsorship).

Financial issues for sponsors

On benefit issues relating to the 'thank you' payments, the DWP confirms that:

  • The host will be no better or worse off in terms of their benefit entitlement as a result of the payment they receive from the government.
  • The 'thank you' payment is not a rental liability for the persons sponsored.

There is guidance on this for staff administering benefits.

The sponsor cannot charge rent, but may ask the guest to 'pay a reasonable and proportionate contribution (according to use) for water, gas and electricity consumed or supplied to the accommodation or to any shared facilities' There also needs to be an agreement as to what, if anything, should be paid towards the council tax.

Ukrainian evacuees are not able to apply for housing costs support via housing benefit or universal credit until they have a 'rental liability' (after they leave the Homes for Ukraine scheme). For more details on benefits issues for Ukrainians, see below.

The Association of British Insurers has said that sponsors will be protected from any changes to their home insurance costs, with their cover remaining the same for the first 12 months, even if their policy is due for renewal. Landlords offering property under HFU do not have to register as a landlord in Scotland, as normally required.

Ukraine Family Scheme

British nationals and people of any nationality settled in the UK are being supported to bring parents, grandparents, adult children and siblings to the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme. Some 33,000 people have arrived to date (August 8). Eligible applicants must be Ukrainian or the immediate family member of a Ukrainian national who is applying to the scheme, and have been residing in Ukraine before 1 January 2022. Everyone assisted requires a visa and these can be obtained online. People who are eligible under this route are encouraged to call a free helpline +44 808 164 8810 (0808 164 8810 in the UK). Those given a visa have three years' leave and will have access to benefits and housing (once regulations have been changed).

Unlike the HFU scheme, there is no 'thank you' payment for hosts, nor is accommodation inspected. Local authorities are not being given information on where families are located. Those arriving under this scheme who find their accommodation to be unsuitable have to present as homeless to the local authority, as there is not yet a mechansim to move them to a sponsor under the HFU scheme (and, unlike the family scheme, applications to HFU cannot be made within the UK). On July 6, the government promised to rectify this and allow transfers into the HFU.

Ukrainians already in the UK

Ukrainians already in the UK with a visa can extend their visa or switch to another immigration route even if their visa does not normally allow them to do so. A 'visa extension scheme' opened on May 3 for those who had permission to be in the UK before March 18. They have access to public funds and so will be eligible for benefits and housing. However, extended visas under this scheme cannot lead to settlement, so time spent in the UK under them will not 'count' for those who subsequently apply for indelfinite leave to remain. So far (August 1), about 16,000 visa extensions have been approved.

The scheme removes doubts about whether all Ukrainians who were already in the UK before the crisis are able to secure access to public funds. For example, seasonal workers can switch to this scheme and are no longer tied to the same employer.

Anyone in England not covered by the scheme who has limited leave (even with a no public funds condition) has the right to rent in the private sector, and can in any case rent privately in Wales and Scotland.

Ukrainians who claim asylum

Ukrainians already in the UK can also claim asylum, which would give them access to asylum support accommodation while their claim is dealt with. However, this may not be the best course of action, as explained by the Free Movement website here, and they should get legal advice before making a claim. When someone with existing leave applies for asylum, their leave is typically automatically extended and subject to the same conditions as before, including, where relevant, the right to work and rent. The gov.uk page on asylum for Ukrainians has been withdrawn, however, while policy is updated.

Eligibility rules for housing and homelessness assistance and for benefits

Amendments to the rules in England took effect on March 22. They bring within the scope of housing and homelessness assistance Ukrainians who have had to flee the violence who were resident in Ukraine before 2022. Anyone in this group who has leave without a public funds condition and without a sponsorship (maintenance undertaking) is eligible. The changes also apply to local authority housing and homelessness assistance in Scotland. There is an explanatory memorandum on the changes. The equivalent changes in Wales took effect on April 28.

More amendments took effect in England on June 22 to cater for Ukrainians who receive limited leave while they are in the UK; they then become eligible for housing and homelessness assistance.

The homelessness code in England has been amended. (Note that local authorities are already reporting homelessness cases from breakdowns in some of the early accommodation arrangements.) Consolidated versions of the English and Welsh regulations are available on the page on housing eligibility law.

The rule changes also remove the habitual residence test for UK and Irish nationals, or others with settled status in the UK, who return to the UK after being resident in Ukraine before 2022. They ensure that anyone fleeing Ukraine is entitled from the date they arrive, and do not have to wait 1-3 months. There is an explanatory memorandum to the changes.

The equivalent rule changes for universal credit (UC), state pension credit (SPC) and housing benefit (HB) took effect at the same time. These changes remove the habitual residence test for anyone who was living in Ukraine before 2022 and who has either been given leave or is a British citizen or Commonwealth citizen with the right-of-abode. They ensure that anyone fleeing Ukraine is entitled to UC/SPC/HB from the date they arrive, and do not have to wait 1-3 months. Many are already receiving pension credit.

There is an explanatory memorandum to the changes (and also a DWP guidance memo covering UC/HB and another covering pension credit). The explanatory memorandum says that DWP had intended to align exemptions from residency tests with the new schemes for those arriving from Ukraine, but this is not yet possible. Instead they have introduced general exceptions from the residency tests for those with leave either inside or outside the immigration rules. Anyone arriving in the UK under the Home Office schemes will benefit from these exemptions. (Note that those housed under the HFU scheme will not have a rent liability, and will not be able to claim.)

An order which took effect on June 1 makes time-limited changes to homelessness legislation in England, relaxing the rules on use of bed and breakfast accommodation to allow for sponsorship arrangements. Both Nearly Legal and Shelter discuss its implications.

Data on homelessness among Ukrainians housed under the HFU or family schemes are provided here. As of July 29, 1,335 households had been dealt with as homeless, the majority (695) under the family scheme. There is no separate funding for the extra homelessness that arises. An ONS survey in July (published August 10) indicated that a quarter of HFU sponsors intend to pull out of the scheme after six months.

Effects on council tax and rebates

These are the rules about council tax exemptions and discounts:

  • A dwelling where all the occupiers aged 18 or over are either from Ukraine, students, severely mentally impaired or any combination of these (e.g. two Ukrainians and one student) is exempt from council tax. But in England this only applies if the person from Ukraine has leave under the HFU scheme (SI 2022/439 3(3)). The equivalent change in Wales commences on July 21. In Scotland the change applies to anyone who was resident in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 and who has any kind of leave or the right of abode (SSI 2022/124, reg. 2).
  • Likewise a person who is liable for council tax (owner-occupier, tenant) does not lose their discount due to the presence of a person would be ignored when determining an exemption in the rule above (England, SI 2022/439 2; Wales, SI 2022/722; in Scotland SSI 2022/125, reg. 2).
  • In England, a dwelling that would be exempt from council tax because it is unoccupied continues to be exempt if the only person(s) living in it have leave under the HFU scheme (SI 2022/439 3(2)). But this only applies to those dwellings that would otherwise be in an exempt class: for example, if the previous owner is in hospital or long-term care, has gone bankrupt or where the dwelling has been repossessed by a mortgage lender.

And these are the rules about council tax rebates:

  • Although people who are supported under the Ukraine family scheme are entitled to UC or HB the law for council tax rebates (CTR) has not yet been changed. Strictly speaking this means they are not entitled until they are habitually resident (usually after one to three months). However, in England and Wales, this does not stop a person from getting a discretionary council tax rebate until then (Local Government Finance Act 1992 s.13A(1)(c)).
  • A person who is disregarded for the purpose of a council tax discount does not trigger a non-dependant deduction from the liable person’s council tax rebate. This rule is from the existing law (e.g. it applies to a Ukrainian living with a tenant under the sponsor scheme).
  • In Scotland, government payments made to a host under the HFU scheme are disregarded as capital (SSI 2022/125 regs 3, 4).

Further changes to the law are expected over the coming weeks.

Right to rent checks in England

The guidance on right to rent checks has been amended with a new Annex I which advises landlords on how to make right to rent checks for Ukrainians. Those arriving under the two main visa schemes initially have leave outside the rules for six months and so their right to rent will need to be rechecked when they receive their biomentric residence permit giving them up to three years' leave.

Key government advice pages for the Ukraine crisis

As well as the links above, other gov.uk pages with advice on the schemes and for Ukrainian nationals, updated regularly, include these:

These pages have links to all the separate advice for Scotland and Wales.

Other advice for Ukrainian nationals

Other sources of help (in addition to the usual advice agencies) include:

  • Free advice for Ukrainian nationals is being provided by the Ukraine Advice Project UK (the link includes advice in Ukrainian). Ukrainians seeking advice can email projectu@dlapiper.com and the lawyers will allocate them to a volunteer. 
  • In Scotland, Ukraine Advice Scotland is sponsored by the Scottish Government to provide free legal advice. It has an advice line, 0800 995 6045, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays (mornings only), or can be contacted by email: ukraine@justrightscotland.org.uk (initial contact is in English, but interpreter services are available). The Scottish Refugee Council also has extensive guidance.
  • The Free Movement website has an excellent article explaining the details of the current routes for Ukrainians to be able to stay in the UK and how they work (correct at May 24).
  • A comprehensive guide from the Works Rights Centre is being updated as policies develop.
  • A migrant charity has compiled a very comprehensive page (in Ukrainian) for those considering leaving Ukraine now.
  • The following organisations are recognised providers of hosting arrangements under HFU:
  • Room for Refugees also offers hosting arrangements:
  • Some social landlords, such as South Yorkshire Housing Association, are giving guidance to tenants on sponsoring Ukrainians.
  • The government education hub has guidance on getting school places. Guidance is also available on primary health care.

The House of Commons Library has a briefing on where Ukrainians live in the UK.

The Migration Observatory has a very useful summary article, which is updated when there are new developments.

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