Politics

20,000 sign up to house Ukraine refugees: How new scheme works, how to join and what’s involved

There will be no limit to the number of Ukrainian refugees who can come to the UK as they face their “hour of greatest need”, Cabinet minister Michael Gove has told MPs.

Announcing the details of a new sponsorship scheme for those fleeing Russia’s invasion, Mr Gove expressed his hope that many Britons would “open their homes” and accept Ukrainian refugees.

This would help those “fleeing persecution to find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future”, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary told the House of Commons on Monday.

Mr Gove said the new scheme would be based on “the enormous goodwill and generosity of the British public and our proud history of supporting the vulnerable in their hour of greatest need”.

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How many Ukrainian refugees will the UK take in?

Mr Gove’s department confirmed there will be no limit on the number of Ukrainians taken into the UK under the new sponsorship route, with the government ready to welcome as many as wish to come and for whom there are sponsors.

“This is a huge humanitarian crisis, and we are urging the British public to come forward and help where they can,” the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said in its guidance about the new scheme.

Any Ukrainian national or immediate family member of a Ukrainian national, if they were resident in Ukraine prior to 1 January this year, is eligible for the scheme.

They do not need to have existing family ties to the UK.

How will the scheme work?

Those in the UK who have a spare room, or separate self-contained accommodation that is unocccupied, are being asked to offer to house Ukrainians for a period of at least six months.

As an immediate step, those wishing to make such an offer are being asked to register their interest on the new “Homes for Ukraine” website.

Mr Gove told MPs that 1,500 people had already registered to offer support within the first hour of the website going live on Monday afternoon.

Under the first phase of the scheme, offers must be made to a specific person or people.

Checks will be undertaken on individuals offering to host refugees, but Mr Gove said full DBS checks would not be needed.

Charities and other organisations might be able to help those offering accommodation to make contact with a named person.

Both Ukrainian refugees and those who make an offer of accommodation will be subject to a range of security and safeguarding checks.

Local councils may also check that the accommodation being offered is appropriate.

It is free for Ukrainians to apply for the scheme.

Will there be financial help?

Those who make an offer of accommodation will be entitled to an optional “thank you” tax-free payment of £350 per month.

This will not affect someone’s benefit entitlement or council tax status, such as single occupancy discount.

Britons offering to house refugees will not be expected to cover the costs of food and living expenses for Ukrainian families, although they may wish to do so.

Local councils will also be offered extra funding to enable them to give wider support to Ukrainians coming to the UK.

When will the scheme begin?

Britons hoping to offer housing can begin to register their interest immediately.

However, the visa form for Ukrainians looking to move to the UK under the scheme – and who already have named people willing to sponsor them – will only be available from Friday, 18 March.

The single form needs to be completed by either the applicant themselves, or their sponsor.

Those who hold a valid Ukrainian passport will not need to attend a visa application centre, however those without a valid Ukrainian passport will need to book and attend a visa application appointment.

Biometric checks will be carried out after Ukrainians arrive in the UK, in order to avoid delays.

Will Ukrainians be able to work or claim benefits?

All those coming from Ukraine under the scheme will be able to apply for benefits and to seek and take up employment.

They will be granted leave to remain in the UK for three years and be able to access public services, such as the NHS and schooling.

Are there already routes for Ukrainians to come to the UK?

The new sponsorship scheme is open to those Ukrainians who do not already have relatives living in the UK.

Ministers had been under pressure – including from among Conservative MPs – to do more to provide sanctuary for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war machine.

This followed criticism of the Home Office’s handling of an already-established separate scheme, which allows visa applications from those Ukrainians who do have family members in the UK.

That outcry grew louder amid reports of refugees being turned away at the Calais border.

Latest data published by the Home Office on Monday revealed that there have been 4,000 visas issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme since it launched on 4 March.

This is out of 17,100 applications submitted so far.

Will the PM offer to take in Ukrainians?

Number 10 said earlier on Monday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was unlikely to take any Ukrainian refugees into Downing Street under the new sponsorship scheme.

“There are specific challenges around security on housing people in Number 10,” the PM’s official spokesman said.

However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said his family would apply for the new programme, while Mr Gove said he was considering the prospect.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Twitter he would be “signing up and opening my home to support our Ukrainian friends”.

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