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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 159,000 Ukrainians to the UK. This page, updated regularly, gives general information as well as specific details on housing and benefits issues.

Last updated: January 30, 2023.

Homes for Ukraine scheme

The Homes for Ukraine (HFU) scheme allows Ukrainians with no ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or local authorities so that they can receive accommodation and support. Scotland and Wales (updated, with more detail, on December 3) are part of the scheme.

Up to January 24, around 151,000 visas had been issued under the HFU scheme; 113,000 people had actually arrived here. The data include numbers at national and at local authority level, according to the sponsor's location. There is a strong concentration in the south and in rural areas.

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.

There is advice for guests (January 16) on remaining with sponsors or rematching with a different sponsor.

Guidance for sponsors (or 'hosts')

Those who host Ukrainians through the scheme receive a ‘thank you’ payment of £350 a month for the first 12-months of their guests’ stay, since increased to £500 for guests who have been in the country more than a year – including those who ‘rematch’ with new sponsors. The ‘thank you’ payments are available for two years where sponsors are willing to continue hosting. Payments are paused if guests are temporarily absent for more than four weeks.

Individuals and groups can register here as potential sponsors. There is a page of FAQs on the scheme (with versions in Ukrainian and Russian) and separate guidance for sponsors.

Potential hosts can also register through Ukrainian Sponsorship Pathway UK. It is looking for lead sponsors who will lead at least three other sponsors in their community to host Ukrainians. City of Sanctuary UK has a list of practical things for potential hosts to consider before applying.

A coalition of anti-slavery and human rights groups has a website 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, safeguarding, funding arrangements, data sharing arrangements, rematching where a sponsor arrangement breaks down, the future of the scheme and other details. There is separate information about accommodation checks, including suggested minimum accommodation standards and how handle issues that arise. Separate guidance is provided for local authorities in Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland also has guidance on the HFU scheme.

A per-person tariff of £10,500 is paid to support local authorities running the scheme. For Ukrainian arrivals after 1 January 2023, the council tariff falls to £5,900 per person. Councils will continue to receive the previous amount for any Ukrainian already in the UK.

There is additional guidance for councils on assisting unaccompanied children; there is also guidance on sponsors withdrawing from the scheme. See below for guidance on dealing with homelessness. The LGA has good practice examples of accommodation checks by local authorities and of local partnerships to support refugees.

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 says that sponsors are 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 46,000 people have arrived to date (January 24). 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. Those given a visa have three years' leave and have access to benefits and housing.

There is no 'thank you' payment for hosts, nor is accommodation inspected. Local authorities are not given information on where families are located. Those arriving who find their accommodation to be unsuitable have to present as homeless to the local authority, as there is no 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.

Dealing with homelessness among Ukrainians

As hosting arrangements break down or come to an end, some Ukrainians are presenting as homeless. Rules allow Ukrainians to receive homelessness help and guidance has been issued to local authorities in England.

DLUHC announced that where sponsorships can no longer continue, councils across the UK can access a one-off £150m funding pot – also available to support other people at risk of homelessness. For local authorities in England, there will be a new £500m fund to acquire housing stock for those fleeing conflict – including from Ukraine and Afghanistan. The government expects this fund to provide up to 4,000 homes by 2024.

Data on homelessness among those housed under the HFU or family schemes are provided here. As of December 30, 3,165 households had been dealt with as homeless, more than half of them (1,725) under the HFU, mainly because hosting arrangements broke down.

Eligibility rules for housing and homelessness assistance

Amendments to the rules in England bring within the scope of housing and homelessness assistance anyone who was resident in Ukraine before the 1 January 2022, left due to the invasion and who has leave under the Homes for Ukraine or the Family Scheme provided that the leave was granted without a ‘no public funds’ condition. Such new arrivals are entitled immediately without needing to show they are ‘habitually resident’ and this also applies to any British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens with the right of abode. The changes also apply to local authority housing and homelessness assistance in Scotland and in Wales. There is an explanatory memorandum on the changes.

More amendments took effect in England on June 10 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 was amended. Consolidated versions of the English and Welsh regulations are available on the page on housing eligibility law.

Rule changes also removed 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. There is an explanatory memorandum to the changes.

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.

Eligibility for benefits

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 has been given limited leave without a ‘no public funds’ condition under one of the special schemes for people from Ukraine or anyone who was living in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 who left due to the Russian invasion, who is a British citizen, Irish citizen, or a Commonwealth citizen with the right-of-abode. They ensure that anyone fleeing Ukraine is entitled to UC/SPC/HB from the date they arrive. There is an explanatory memorandum to the changes (and also a DWP guidance memo covering UC/HB and another covering pension credit).  (Note that those housed under the HFU scheme will not have a rent liability, and will not be able to claim for any rent payments.)

Government guidance (January 16) explains the benefit system for eligible Ukrainians.

Effects on council tax and rebates (paid by sponsors)

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, reg. 3(3)). The equivalent change in Wales started on July 21. In Scotland the change applies to anyone who was resident in Ukraine before 1 January 2022 and who has the right of abode, any kind of leave (SSI 2022/124, art. 2) or (from 12 October) who is an Irish citizen (SSI 2022/272, art. 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 who would be ignored when determining an exemption in the rule above (England, SI 2022/439, reg. 2; Wales, SI 2022/722; in Scotland SSI 2022/125, reg. 2, SSI 2022/271 reg. 7).
  • 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, reg. 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:

  • People who are supported under the Ukraine family scheme are entitled to UC or HB, and also entitled to council tax rebates without needing to prove their habitual residence. Also, if sponsors receive 'thank you' payments this does not affect any rebate they receive. Local council tax support schemes for the year 2023/24 must include a provision that any payment to the sponsor under the HFU is disregarded (SI 2023/16 reg 5).
  • 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). (They are also disregarded as income under the existing law.)

Renting from a private landlord

The government has a short guidance page on renting privately that links to guides for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is guidance for councils in England on supporting Ukrainians to access private lettings.

The guidance on right to rent checks was amended with Annex I which advises landlords on how to make right to rent checks for Ukrainians who rent in England. 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.

Ukrainians in the UK before the crisis

Ukrainians in the UK with a visa before the crisis can extend their visa or switch to another immigration route even if their visa does not normally allow them to do so. The eligibility criteria cover applicants here before May 16 2023. 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 (January 24), about 16,000 visa extensions have been approved under this scheme.

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 updated.

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 London, the Refugee Council’s Refugee Advice Project is open for referrals for Ukrainians who have a Ukraine Family Visa. It is an appointment-based service, made by email: refugeeadvice@refugeecouncil.org.uk
  • 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 Migration Observatory has a briefing (August 24) about Ukrainian refugees, with background information and up to date statistics.
  • 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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