Our top tips for Ukrainian Refugees

Based on our experience so far, we summarise some of our top tips for Ukrainians coming to the UK as follows. Note that these are our opinions only, so please also do your own research and make your own judgements before proceeding.

What we DON’T recommend you do!

A word of caution: don’t rely on social media groups alone for important information; we have seen many, many examples of incorrect advice being given and perpetuated. ALWAYS check advice given with official sources, especially if it is something that will have a significant impact on you, such as your entitlement to benefits, or visa questions.

We especially recommend you subscribe to receive updates from the Government as soon as they are published; see Useful Resources for a step by step guide on how to do this.

Also, as someone new to this country, and who doesn’t know how things work here, you will find all kinds of adverts on social media offering to help you with your needs – for a fee. Unfortunately, sometimes, that is just exploiting you, designed to take advantage of your situation, and to make money from you, or worse, it could be a scam, fraud, trafficking or other illegal activity. Don’t take what looks like the ‘easy’ way out, paying high prices for everything, including things that are absolutely free for people here! Handing over sums of money to strangers on social media is risky – anyone can fake a photo of an office or a company name. Be strong, do some research, ask questions, ask people you know and trust for help, find out for yourself what your rights and options are, and what is the right way to do things. Even if it takes more effort and time to begin with, your investment in learning will make you better off in the long term. Watch how British people manage, and emulate them. Get a balanced perspective by asking British people also for their advice; after all, they’ve lived here all their lives!

Take note of these popular sayings: ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’, ‘Trust your gut instinct‘ and ‘Keep your wits about you’.

Tips on finding a guest or sponsor and getting to the UK

  • As a potential host, you can use your contacts, local community, established social media groups and well-known host / guest matching sites to find someone to sponsor.
  • Do not pay for sponsors or agents; these are scams. See Ukraine Visa Scams
  • As a guest, make sure you have understood and agreed any important house rules, Covid vaccination status expectations or expected contributions towards bills and food before you proceed with the application.
  • Make sure you can access public transport where you will live, or have other means to get around.
  • Think carefully about coming here if you are planning to continue your university studies online in Ukraine, as you will not qualify for benefits or student loans and may struggle to support yourself (see Education)
  • Think about being a sponsor for family members if you have ‘settled status’ in the UK (see Ukrainian Refugee UK Visa Types)
  • Think carefully about bringing a vehicle over from Ukraine, as car insurance becomes complicated (see Driving)
  • As you may find dental care is expensive here, you may want to make sure your dental treatments are up to date (see Healthcare)

Explore the topic on these webpages: Ukrainian Refugee UK Visa Types, Finding a UK Sponsor, Applying For A Visa and Before Leaving Ukraine.

Tips on what to do on arrival in the UK as a Ukrainian refugee

  • Follow the example priority task checklist on arrival (see Priority Tasks)
  • Apply by phone for Pension Credit, not online, as this doesn’t work for Ukrainian visa holders (see UK Benefits System)
  • Ask the Job Centre to make certified copies of original documents when applying for Child Benefit
  • NatWest and Barclays seem to be the easiest high street banks to open an account with, as they don’t require proof of address (see Banking)
  • If you live in London, register your contactless card with Transport for London (see Travel)
  • Look to arrange childcare as a priority, so that you can work full-time. If you have children, as soon as they get a school place, put them on the waiting list for the school’s breakfast and after school clubs. See Help With Childcare
  • Subscribe to the Government guidance to receive up to date information. See Useful Resources
  • Subscribe to our newsletter to receive additional news and updates. See Newsletter Subscription
  • With the help of translation tools, your host and council support services, you should be able to complete all required administration tasks without paying any fees to anyone

Living and integrating in the UK as a Ukrainian refugee – general tips

  • The 3 key things to sort out for independent life in the UK are: i) full-time childcare if you have children, ii) a full-time job, which is only possible once you have full-time childcare and iii) renting your own place, which is made easier if you have a full-time job
  • It will take time to find a good job, and then somewhere to live. Don’t wait till month 5 out of your 6 months sponsorship arrangement to think about your plans; work backwards from your deadlines.
  • Try to find at least one face to face English class; it’s a good way to learn and make connections also.
  • Join general local community social media groups such as Facebook and Nextdoor to hear about local jobs and places to rent.
  • If you need to go back to Ukraine to sort out any affairs, it’s important to have received the BRP first as it makes it easier to leave and re-enter the UK
  • If you are having issues with BRPs, or have lost yours, see Biometric Residence Permit for more information.

Tips around the benefits systems in the UK

  • Learn to use a benefits calculator like the one provided by Turn2Us to work out what benefits you are entitled to, depending on different circumstances. You can get financial help with renting and childcare, even if you are working, provided your savings are low enough. See UK Benefits System.
  • Apply by phone for Pension Credit, not online, as some of the online questions may not be relevant
  • Ask the Job Centre to make certified copies of original documents when applying for Child Benefit
  • A significant proportion of childcare costs can be claimed back through Universal Credit once you are working, but you must use registered providers to be eligible
  • Add guests’ names to household bills, so that they are eligible to receive any future Government payments to help with cost of living
  • Always check if you qualify for any discounts if you are eligible for Universal Credit or Pension Credit; for example, entry tickets, or discounted travel.

Explore the topic from the webpage: UK Benefits System.

Tips around finding work in the UK as a Ukrainian refugee

  • For the first 6 months, you have all rights thanks to your visa entry stamp / Permission to Travel letter; you don’t need to have a BRP as proof of your right to work, although we advise you to apply for this in any case as a priority. See https://ukrainianrefugeehelp.co.uk/biometric-residence-permit/#prove-rights for what to do if your employer insists on a BRP and you don’t have one yet.
  • Look on job boards like Indeed.com for advertised vacancies from genuine employers (see Finding Work).
  • Do not just post on Facebook saying ‘I need a job’ with no other information – it’s not effective. Would you hire someone yourself like this?
  • Find out which ’employability organisation’ your local council works with, and ask them for help getting a CV together and finding work suitable for your skills and English levels. See https://ukrainianrefugeehelp.co.uk/organisations-that-help-find-work/#employability.
  • Consider applying for apprenticeships, as they pay a reasonable wage, are full-time jobs, frequently require no prior experience and offer training on the job.
  • When you get a job, you may wish to opt out of workplace pension contributions (see Wages, Taxes and Other Deductions).
  • Use registered childcare providers to be eligible for help from Universal Credit with childcare costs (see Help With Childcare and UK Benefits System), rather than unregistered acquaintances, friends and relatives
  • Being on ‘zero hours’ contracts will mean you can’t show a guaranteed income for renting purposes, and should be avoided when you are looking to rent
  • If you have problems at work, contact the organisation Acas for help

Explore the topic from the webpage: Finding Work, and the pages subsequently referenced from here.

Tips around finding somewhere to live in the UK

  • Make sure you ask your local council’s refugee support team and housing department to see what help is available for those looking to rent on a low income, such as help with deposits or grants.
  • Apply for council / social housing soon after you arrive; you might be lucky.
  • If you came here under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, you are allowed to leave your sponsor, and then look for another one, even with a gap between them (see Moving To Another Sponsor)
  • When it comes to renting privately, it’s a myth that you need ‘a good credit score’ and need to be in the UK for a long time to rent. From a credit perspective, it’s only important to show you have no negative credit events and some referencing agencies can do this after 1 to 3 months in the UK.
  • The affordability criteria is much more important. You will need to show guaranteed income from work in order to pass affordability checks for renting properties.
  • Avoid ‘zero hours’ contracts; this will fail affordability checks straight away.
  • Save up as much as you can to put yourself in a good position; most landlords will require either 6 months rent upfront or a UK-based guarantor if you cannot meet the affordability and other referencing criteria.
  • Do a ‘benefits calculation’ to check how much help you can get towards rental costs from Universal Credit or Housing Benefit (if you are on Pension Credit). Your sponsor may agree to be your guarantor if you can show the rent is covered by benefits, and a prospective landlord may wish to see this calculation also. Your name must be on the tenancy agreement to receive help.
  • Different agents use different referencing agencies, so if (for example) you are told you need 12 months rent upfront with one agent, ask others who might be less strict.
  • Once you have moved into rented accommodation, you are eligible for a 50% discount on your council tax bill if you are Homes for Ukraine visa holders (in England). Ask your local council to apply it.

Explore the topic from the webpage: Housing Options for Ukrainian Refugees, and the pages subsequently referenced from here.

Where to go for support

  • If things start to break down between host and guest, your local council should be the first point of contact to turn to for support. Keep them involved in the situation, so they can support you (see Housing Issues And Homelessness and Local Council Contacts)
  • A lot of important support is provided via charities in the UK. Become familiar with some of the well-known charities who can provide you with expert advice and guidance; British people also commonly use these resources.
  • Try to create networks that include British people and organisations for help and advice; don’t rely on Ukrainian networks only
  • Although social media groups can be a useful source of information, we don’t recommend relying on them alone. Frequently, the advice given is wrong. Subscribe instead to the Government guides, and to our newsletter.
  • Find your local community refugee support group to meet people in person and to form connections that could later help you. It’s easier for people to help someone they know a bit.
  • In general, your local council, official helplines (some of which are mentioned in this site) and Citizens Advice are good places to contact for further help and support (see Useful Contacts and Local Council Contacts)