Urgent calls for hosts to join Homes for Ukraine scheme in the UK

UK: Following last week’s Independence Day of Ukraine, which marked the six-month anniversary of the Russian invasion of the country, the UK Government has called for more people to join the Homes for Ukraine scheme and take refugees into their homes.

The calls came after concerns were raised that people have become more reticent to sign up to the scheme due to the cost of living and the government’s reluctance thus far to announce additional financial support for hosts in the UK who sign up to Homes for Ukraine.

Refugees minister Lord Harrington, who launched the appeal for new hosts, told PA Media that monthly payments to people hosting Ukrainian refugees should increase by double to £700 in order to provide housing amid the cost of living crisis for at least the next six months.

He said: “I would urge anyone who has the room to come forward and join thousands of others in providing a safe haven for people forced to leave their country.”

Homes for Ukraine guests were initially given a £200 “welcome” payment and hosts received a £350-a-month “thank you” payment for housing refugees for more than six months. Councils also receive £10,500 through the scheme.

Harrington added that he was lobbying the Treasury “very hard” to double the £350 monthly payment for hosts housing refugees for six-month-plus periods to help support them as the costs of utilities rise at an eye-watering rate.

To date, more than 83,000 refugees have come to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme since its inception in March, with Lord Harrington estimating that around 4000 – 5000 Ukrainians are arriving every week under visa provisions.

However, sponsors have not yet been found for all the refugees applying to join the scheme. According to government data, 1335 Ukrainian households – including 945 families with children – have been registered as homeless since the war began in February.

Taking that into account, MPs and charities fear that those homelessness figures will spiral further as hosts face a number of pressures, such as soaring energy bills, inflation and interest rates. After collating feedback from refugee sponsors, children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Labour and Liberal Democrat political parties estimate that between 15,000 and 21,000 Ukrainian refugees could be left homeless by this winter, and that that statistic will rise by more than double by the middle of 2023.

Despite those warnings, government ministers are yet to offer a fresh financial support package for hosts, ahead of the announcement of the next UK Prime Minister next week.

According to an Office for National Statistics [ONI] survey released earlier this month, the rising cost of living was a potential deterrent for the majority of people that wanted to host Ukrainian refugees. Almost a quarter [24 per cent] of sponsors who signed up to house refugees for six months or less said that they would no longer be able to afford to remain in the scheme beyond then, while 38 per cent of those surveyed said that they would consider hosting for longer if more financial support were made available.

As the UK marked six months since the start of the war with a series of events, including lighting up landmarks across the country in Ukrainian colours [blue and yellow], outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to provide “every possible military, economic and humanitarian support”.

A separate charity that was set up to aid hosts and refugees, the Sanctuary Foundation, has launched its own campaign – Not Too Late To Host – to encourage more UK nationals to become Ukrainian refugee sponsors, in collaboration with the Opera network.

Likewise, the British Red Cross, which does not receive government payments, urged ministers to sanction more financial support to people signing up to the Ukraine Family Scheme, in which British-Ukrainian residents support family members who have left Ukraine since the war began.

Executive director Richard Blewitt told The Guardian: “We’re encouraging the UK government to step up its financial support given the scale of the economic crisis here in the UK and the cost of living crisis, particularly for the hosts. With the Ukraine Family Scheme, maybe the government is going to have to chip in a bit to help those families also who are hosting many Ukrainians.”

In the meantime, Airbnb has announced that more than 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine have found stays through Airbnb.org, the company’s charitable arm. In total, more than 48,000 hosts have offered temporary stays to refugees in 160 countries and regions around the world through the organisation since the Russian invasion in February, and Airbnb.org has worked with 40 humanitarian organisations worldwide, including new partners such as IOM, Alight and Nova Ukraine, to provide temporary accommodation.

Catherine Powell, global head of hosting at Airbnb, said: “At the heart of Airbnb.org is the incredible community of hosts who time and again demonstrate their generosity by opening their homes to people in need. We are also immensely grateful for the tireless work of organisations whose partnership with Airbnb.org touched 100,000 human lives who desperately needed to feel the warmth and welcome of a community.”

To date, refugees fleeing Ukraine have found refuge with hosts through Airbnb.org across more than 90 countries and regions, including Germany, Poland, Denmark, Romania, Hungary and Canada.

To sign up to the Homes For Ukraine scheme, whether you are a UK host offering accommodation to a refugee or a Ukrainian refugee looking for a UK sponsor, follow this link.

To apply for a Ukraine Family Scheme visa, click here.