Housing / Hosting Issues and Homelessness For Ukrainians
We have encountered a few examples where problems have arisen for Ukrainian visa holders (and hosts), which we describe below. Please note that you should always contact your local council in the first instance if you have a problem (whether you are a host or a guest).
See Useful Contacts for information on how to find your local council (or that of your sponsor), your local Citizens Advice branch, or Shelter (a charity that specialises in housing and housing issues).
Unsuitable sponsor housing
Because a sponsor’s house is checked by the local council, whereas the visa application is processed by the Government, and both of these happen independently of each other, it is possible that the guest has their visa already granted and has travelled to the sponsor’s address, only to find it is not suitable.
If they believe this, they must contact the local council to check whether or not they have indeed inspected the property and passed it.
If the property is not passed by the local council, a new sponsor will need to be found, and the council should support the guest in the meantime.
The probability of the property not being passed is deemed low. It would be advisable to escape a war zone once you have a visa.
However, we are seeing some cases where the accommodation is great, the host has been vetted, but the location is far away from public transport, leaving the guest isolated and dependent on the host for getting around, which is unsustainable. This may take a while for the guest to realise. In this case, it could be reasonable to try to find a new sponsor who is closer to amenities and transport. See Moving To Another Sponsor.
For some sponsors under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, this might be the first time they are hosting a stranger in their family home. It might be the first time the guest has left Ukraine and they may not speak much English. As such, both sides need to be tolerant, patient and willing to compromise to make the arrangement work. A guest may want to live in a particular way that surprises the sponsor. They may understandably be too caught up in worrying about events back home and their own predicament to pay attention to a sponsor’s expectations.
Under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, a guest is entitled to a minimum of 6 months’ rent-free accommodation in the UK. However, as a guest, please be aware that it may not be easy to change a sponsor for the following reasons:
- Most people who want to sponsor someone will have already found guests. So you may have to go back to the matching sites, social media or your own contacts to find a potential sponsor who still hasn’t found someone, several months after the scheme was launched
- If you want to stay in the same area, the choice of potential sponsors who haven’t yet found a guest may be limited
- Some sponsors were expecting to host a guest, who then changed their plans and didn’t make it to the UK. They will be in the ‘computer system’ and they may have the ability to accept someone else, but there won’t be many like this
- A new sponsor will want to know why it didn’t work out with the previous sponsor before accepting the guest. If the property was inspected and passed by the council, then saying it was not nice enough is probably not a good enough reason.
Therefore, our observation is that it is not easy to find and change sponsors. It’s best to try to resolve any issues early on by having an amicable discussion and making some compromises on both sides. You can also ask the local council or a refugee organisation for help in mediating to find a solution. If however, both host and guest have tried to make things work, but it really isn’t working out, you must inform the local council in the first place. Do not be tempted as a guest to simply leave and ‘disappear’ from their systems, as they cannot support you if you do this. They are obliged to decide on a housing plan for you (see Risk of becoming homeless), and for those with priority needs such as children, elderly people or disabled people, they have a duty to find you accommodation. However, they do not usually have a lot of spare housing. You may be placed anywhere, possibly further away than you would like from schools, in a hostel or bed and breakfast shared with other homeless people, so this is not a great option in general. If you are lucky, your local council may know of a sponsor whose guest didn’t arrive and who is still looking, or someone who is willing to host again. You may be able to find a new sponsor yourself by looking at the matching sites or social media (see Finding a UK Sponsor).
Note that a host does not have the ability to ring up the Home Office and ask them to ‘cancel’ your visa or BRP if you decide to move out, or leave the UK for a while. This document is not dependent on you staying with your sponsor.
Be careful about signing up to contracts with private landlords and ending up paying rent as a solution to an early sponsorship breakdown. You are missing out on the 6 months free accommodation with a sponsor that you are entitled to under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, and you probably need this time to establish yourself.
Renting before having a job
If the guest can’t find a new sponsor and needs to rent privately, then this can be difficult to do without a job that provides guaranteed income. We advise having this in place first, before starting to look. Hence, use the rent-free time you have with a sponsor wisely to strengthen your financial position.
See Renting Privately for more information on renting in the private sector. You should also find out about the options to claim help with housing costs if you are on Universal Credit or Pension Credit. See Benefits.
Housing for Family visa holders
For Family visa members, if there is not enough suitable accommodation with your family member, you can still request the local council to look into housing options for you (see Risk of becoming homeless) and claim for help with housing costs through Universal Credit and Pension Credit. You can also apply for council / social housing and of course, look at private rented accommodation.
Refugees at Home (see Finding a UK Sponsor) could also be a way to find someone willing to host family members who already have Family visas to come to the UK and need somewhere to stay once they’re in the UK. Your host wouldn’t be a Homes for Ukraine host, and wouldn’t receive the ‘thank you’ payment, but they may have already hosted other refugee nationalities before, they may be an experienced host and may be happy to help.
Risk of becoming homeless
Ukrainians in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine, Family visa or Extension visa schemes are eligible for assistance if they are at risk of being homeless, from day 1 of arrival in the UK. They do not have to have passed any requirements around ‘habitual residence’ i.e. a minimum amount of time that they have lived in the UK. See https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/immigration_and_residence_restrictions.
There is a lot of information on Shelter’s website regarding the homelessness process. Refer to https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/get_help_from_the_council for the process in England; they will have similar guides for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We summarise a few key points here taken from Shelter England’s website pages.
If you know you might need to leave your current accommodation (for example, your sponsor or family member has given you notice or asked you to leave), and you are concerned you will have nowhere to go, you can inform your local council up to 56 days beforehand that you are at risk of being homeless.
They will assess your situation and create what is known as a Personal Housing Plan for you. This doesn’t mean that they are going to find you free or cheap housing – this plan might simply involve you agreeing to search for rental properties.
You are allowed to say you would like a local property, because your children go to a local school, so make sure your plan includes this if necessary; see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/get_help_from_the_council/personal_housing_plans.
Some cases will qualify to receive ’emergency housing’ – see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/get_help_from_the_council/who_qualifies_for_housing, you will need to meet the conditions indicated in ‘3. You are in priority need’, such as having children. However, they can only find you emergency accommodation more or less on the actual day that you are made homeless, as they will not know what emergency accommodation they have available in advance. Emergency accommodation is likely to be a hotel, hostel or bed and breakfast while they look into your situation, and you may need to stay there for a few weeks.
If you meet all 5 conditions listed on https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/get_help_from_the_council/who_qualifies_for_housing, then you should qualify for longer term housing help. Depending on what is available, you may have to be placed in temporary accommodation next; you wouldn’t be able to rent this as a tenant, so it’s not a secure option. You could be in temporary housing for quite a while, and it could be in another town. You may eventually be offered accommodation in a council property or a private rented property; you should not refuse a ‘final offer’ of housing (see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/final_offers_of_housing_when_homeless) as the council may no longer have a duty to help you if so.
Note that if you leave your sponsor’s or relative’s accommodation voluntarily when there were no issues, or are asked to leave because of anti-social behaviour, the council could say that you made yourself ‘intentionally homeless’ – see https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness/intentionally_homeless for details, and be careful not to be classed as such. The council may still have a duty to provide you with emergency housing, but only for a few weeks; they may decide they do not need to provide you with any further accommodation.
We suggest contacting Shelter or Citizens Advice if you are unsure of what to do or what your rights are, or need help understanding or challenging a council decision. They have webchat advisers available, although they might be very busy.
All in all, being made homeless and going through the process is stressful and risky, and we wouldn’t advise this if you can avoid it. While living with a sponsor, it’s better to get a job and find a rented property yourself in good time.
How to fill in the homelessness or housing enquiry form as a Ukrainian visa holder
The first step when you approach the council about being potentially homeless in the near future is likely to be to complete a ‘housing enquiry’ form. These forms are unlikely to have been updated for Ukrainian visa holders (who are not officially refugees) and there are some questions that require specific answers, which are not obvious.
See https://ukrainianrefugeehelp.co.uk/council-and-social-housing/#questions for a description on how to answer these questions. Note that although applying for council / social housing is not the same as making a homelessness or housing enquiry, the questions are quite similar.