Going back to Ukraine

The situation in Ukraine remains unstable and dangerous. If however, you need to return to Ukraine, here are some things to be aware of.

Going back to Ukraine temporarily

On occasion, a guest may need to return to Ukraine for a short while. It is unlikely that such a trip is really a holiday in the normal sense of the word.

Typical reasons for a temporary return include:

  • Sorting out affairs such as moving out of rented accommodation, arranging care for elderly parents, or collecting items that were left behind initially
  • Visiting loved ones, homes and places that they haven’t seen in many months
  • Returning because of bereavement
  • Getting medical and dental treatment with familiar professionals
  • Seeing if it seems safe enough and economically viable to return more permanently

We have seen a number of questions arising around this topic, which we try to address here.

If you want to or need to return to Ukraine, despite the risks, we advise ensuring you have your BRP first as this will make it much easier to return back to the UK. You can come and go as many times as you like during the 3 year period that the BRP is valid for.

You can stay out of the UK for as long as you like during these trips abroad but if you are receiving benefits, or living with a sponsor still, it is worth knowing about a few relevant rules.

Can you leave the UK if you don’t have a BRP yet?

  • Your initial ‘Permission to Travel’ letter or email, or visa vignette / sticker that you collected from a Visa Application Centre abroad, is a ‘one time entry’ visa i.e. it can be used only once to enter the UK.
  • You are strongly advised to have your BRP before you leave the UK, so that there will be no issues with re-entering the UK.
  • You can stay out of the UK as long as you like (while your immigration status allows); there is no time limit; however, we don’t recommend spending lots of time outside of the UK without good reason in case it raises questions.
  • It may be possible to apply for a ‘replacement BRP visa’ which costs £154, if you absolutely need to leave the UK before you have your BRP. See the section entitled ‘Leaving and re-entering the UK before getting a BRP’ on this page: https://www.gov.uk/biometric-residence-permits/getting-your-brp-if-you-applied-from-outside-the-uk. This could allow you to leave and re-enter the UK once, according to the guidance.

How long can you go back to Ukraine for if you are receiving benefits?

If you are receiving benefits, it is worth being aware of the time limits before your claims will be closed, so you may want to make sure you do not exceed these times. See https://www.gov.uk/claim-benefits-abroad for more information.

Note that the rules around benefits eligibility are not related to the rules around having valid immigration status; the two are unconnected.

If you receive Universal Credit

If you are on Universal Credit, you may leave the country for up to 4 weeks at a time without losing benefits but you must tell the Job Centre when you are going, and when you plan to return, otherwise you could be at risk of commiting benefit fraud. If you are gone longer than 4 weeks, your Universal Credit claim may stop, but you should be able to submit a new claim on your return. Depending on exactly when you report things to the Job Centre, and your assessment period cycle, you may receive some money for the time spent abroad. Note that submitting a new Universal Credit claim will incur a delay of 5 weeks before payments are made.

You can extend your visit by another 4 weeks if for example a close relative dies while you are abroad, or by up to 6 months if for example, you are going abroad for medical treatment. See https://www.gov.uk/claim-benefits-abroad/universal-credit for more details.

If you receive Pension Credit

If you are on Pension Credit, again, you may leave the country for up to 4 weeks at a time without losing benefits, but you must ring the Pension Credit helpline and tell them when you are going and when you plan to return, otherwise you could be at risk of commiting benefit fraud. If you are gone longer than 4 weeks, your Pension Credit claim may stop, but you should be able to submit a new claim on your return. Note that Pension Credit are advising it could take 8 to 10 weeks to get back into payments due to their backlog of processing new claims. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pension-credit/pension-credit-extra-information for more information.

The same circumstances apply as for Universal Credit, regarding possible extensions of another 4 weeks, or being able to go abroad for up to 6 months for medical treatment.

If you receive Child Benefit

If you are only claiming Child Benefit, you can leave the country for up to 8 weeks without losing benefits. See https://www.gov.uk/report-changes-child-benefit.

You must however notify the Child Benefit Office if you are intending to go abroad for more than 8 weeks. You can report this by phone (see Useful Contacts). You can also report it online by creating an online personal tax account with a Government Gateway ID (this can be difficult for a Ukrainian to create, due to the identity verification requirements, so we think phoning is the best option). See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/child-benefit-change-of-family-circumstances.

To be on the safe side, you could also notify them by phone if you are going abroad for less than 8 weeks, although the online form does not actually allow this (i.e. you’re not expected to report this).

How many times can you go back to Ukraine without it affecting your benefits?

When asked (October 2022), Citizens Advice referred us to the legislation on Universal Credit here regarding a temporary absence from Great Britain: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2013/9780111531938/regulation/11 and the Parliamentary deposited paper https://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2020-0646/65._Going_Abroad_v5.0.pdf – both advise that you can go abroad for up to one month at a time, and the Parliamentary paper additionally qualifies that there is no limit to the number of periods of up to one month allowed in one year i.e. you could go back several times if needed. However, just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. There should be good reasons for going back, not just trying to have continuous holidays because you don’t want to get a job.

We advise discussing your reasons for going back with your Work Coach before proceeding and making sure they agree to it. Also note that the guidance states: “A claimant who is on holiday must continue to meet their work-related requirements as set out in their Claimant Commitment.”

We assume similar guidance applies for Pension Credit, although in this case you are not expected to be seeking work. We advise double checking with the Pension Credit helpline (see Useful Contacts).

A sponsor can continue to receive their ‘thank you’ payment and they do not need to notify the council if you are gone for 4 weeks or less. See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/if-your-guest-will-be-absent-temporarily-homes-for-ukraine. If you are away for longer than 4 weeks, and no other guest is staying with your sponsor, your sponsor will need to inform the council, as the ‘thank you’ payments will be paused in this case. They will be re-instated once you return.

If you are absent for more than 4 weeks, you will need to confirm with your sponsor that they are indeed happy for you to continue living there on your return. If they are not, both of you will need to inform the local council and ask for help in finding a new sponsor if needed.

Also, if you keep going back and forth to Ukraine, even if it is 4 weeks or less each time, this can be a bit disruptive, so discuss the reasons with your sponsor to make sure they are ok with it.

Can you leave your children with your sponsor while you visit Ukraine?

If you have children, and need to go back to Ukraine temporarily, it is possible to leave them with your sponsor for up to 28 days without needing to inform anyone. If you need to leave them for longer, the Government guidance here explains what you need to do. The Government guidance has been recently updated (13/09/23) to state that the parent or legal guardian of the child being left behind must complete the following tasks before leaving them in the care of the sponsor:

  • Agree how long the sponsor will be responsible for your children
  • Get the consent of the sponsor to take on additional responsibility as a sponsor of a child under 18
  • Tell the council and give them written consent. You should use this version of the UK sponsorship arrangement consent form
  • Wait for the council to successfully complete any additional safeguarding checks required (including a sponsor suitability assessment)

These rules also apply if your child is travelling to the UK without you, or if you go abroad for less than 4 weeks at a time, but on a regular basis.

Note that leaving your child like this should be considered only under exceptional circumstances when you have no choice.

Going back to Ukraine permanently

If you were still living with a sponsor, your sponsor should inform the local council that you are going to be returning back permanently, so that they can stop the monthly ‘thank you’ payment. This needs to be done immediately you leave, not after 4 weeks.

[If the situation changes for the worse in the future, and you decide you do actually need to leave Ukraine again, then provided your BRP is still valid, you can return to the UK, either to your previous sponsor, or a new one.]

There is no need to tell the Home Office, as your BRP has a natural expiry date.

Your sponsor may request that you additionally deregister anything that is linked to their address, such as GP registration, or that the address details are updated to your address in Ukraine.

If you need to return with a pet, you can contact a pet transporter such as Pet Air UK (see https://www.petairuk.com/) for a quote to fly your pet to a destination such as Romania or Poland, where the pet can be housed for a few days, waiting for you to collect it.

We recommend staying subscribed to our newsletter for a few months after returning, in case there are any updates which might be relevant to you.

Below, we give some pointers on sorting out your financial affairs when leaving.

Sorting out financial affairs when returning permanently

Make sure your financial affairs has been left in good order and all your debts are paid off when you leave permanently. Here, we provide a list of a few areas to think about.

Bank accounts

We recommend you keep your UK bank account open for at least a few months in case you are owed any monies from any organisations such as HMRC, or need to make payments. You should inform your bank of your updated address in Ukraine.

Benefits

You should inform all the relevant benefits offices (Universal Credit, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit) of your intended departure, before you leave the country. If you need to call someone, see Useful Contacts for the phone numbers.

If you are in fact moving on to another European country, you may still continue to be eligible for some benefits abroad. See https://www.gov.uk/claim-benefits-abroad.

Tax affairs

You should tell the Government Department HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) if you have returned permanently, so that you can settle any tax owed, or get a tax refund if HMRC owes you money.

HMRC advises: “All individuals leaving the UK permanently or working abroad for at least one full tax year should complete a form P85. This allows HMRC to check a customer’s tax records and notify them whether a tax refund is due or not.”

See https://www.gov.uk/tax-right-retire-abroad-return-to-uk for links to the P85 form. If you need to contact HMRC, the various methods of contact are available here: Income Tax: general enquiries – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). There is a link on this page to getting further support from HMRC if needed: Get help from HMRC if you need extra support: Help you can get – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). HMRC offer an interpretation service if a customer is not able to speak English and there is nobody in the household aged 16 or over that can interpret for them.

Note that you may still be required to complete a self-assessment tax return at the end of the tax year; see https://ukrainianrefugeehelp.co.uk/self-assessment-tax-return/ for details.

Pensions

If you have money paid into a UK pension fund during your employment here, you should be able to request for the funds to be transferred to a pension provider in Ukraine.

Rented accommodation and bills

Make sure that you have not left a tenancy agreement mid-way without any warning, as you are legally bound by its terms; most landlords should be sympathetic and understanding if you talk to them about your plans and be willing to find a replacement tenant. You may have to pay for their marketing costs.

You should inform utility companies (water, electricity, gas, broadband etc) that you are leaving, and settle your bills as per your meter readings, otherwise you may find yourself paying for the next tenant who moves in.

Your council tax bills should be taken over by the next tenant that moves in, but you may want to let the council know.

Insurance policies

If you have paid for an annual insurance policy, such as car insurance or home contents insurance, then provided you have not made any claims on it, contact the insurance company as you should be able to get a refund for the number of months still outstanding (minus any administration charges).

Student loans

If you have taken out a student loan, then we advise updating the Student Loans Company to let them know that you have returned back home. See this webpage: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/update-your-employment-details.

Can you return to the UK and find a new sponsor after you went back home?

You may have left your original sponsor and gone home thinking you would not need to return to the UK.

If however, the situation changes for the worse in the future, and you decide you do actually need to leave Ukraine again, then provided your BRP is still valid, you can return to the UK.

Note that you have not left the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme even if you went back to Ukraine; you are still able to live with either your previous sponsor (if they are willing) or you can find a new sponsor to live with – see Finding a UK Sponsor for some options you can try.

You should then inform the local council where your new sponsor is based, so that they can perform the necesary background checks on the sponsor. See Moving To Another Sponsor.

DLUHC are supportive of you if you find a new sponsor. They told us:

“Guests don’t leave the scheme – because they have a 3 year visa – but they can leave sponsorship. There is nothing preventing them from going back into sponsorship but they would need to find their own host rather than expecting the local authority to do this for them.

Where a guest approaches the council with a proposed new host for a rematch, the council should not block this and should complete the relevant checks (accommodation, DBS, and welfare) to allow the guest moving into the new accommodation and to make the ‘thank you’ payment payable to the new host. These checks should be completed as soon as possible to avoid delays in moving in.”

In some cases guests are moving into new arrangements before checks have taken place. While this is at their own risk, we are clear it is the responsibility of councils to retrospectively recognise these and ensure these arrangements are safe by completing the checks as soon as possible. The council should not refuse it for any reason other than accommodation, safeguarding or fraud concerns. The ‘thank you’ payment will then be payable to the new host from the date the council are notified by the host or guest about the new arrangements.”