UK’s refugees minister demands cash boost to double number of hosts for Ukrainians

Lord Harrington issues plea to increase £350 monthly payment to host families over fears of homelessness

Ukraine’s flag flies above No 10 Downing Street in central London, alongside the British flag. PA
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Britain's refugees minister has demanded that monthly payments given to hosts of Ukrainian refugees be doubled over concerns that vulnerable migrants could end up homeless once the current placement period ends.

Under the UK's Homes for Ukraine scheme, hosts are given £350 a month ($412) to house refugees from the eastern European war zone for a minimum of six months.

About 25,000 offers of accommodation have been taken up so far, with an average of three Ukrainians living in each home, says minister Lord Richard Harrington.

Britain is grappling with a deepening cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills expected to soar by 80 per cent going into winter, as well as rocketing inflation and rising interest rates.

Lord Harrington says he is working "very hard" with the UK Treasury to double the monthly “thank-you” payment for sponsors who house refugees for longer than half a year.

"The costs … they’re paying maybe a big chunk of rent themselves, the mortgage payments have gone up and everything, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable, in my view, to increase the amount that we’re paying them," he said.

Britain's Home Office is asking existing hosts to extend their generosity and is appealing for new sponsors to step forward, six months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Councils have issued a warning that homelessness could rise if initial six-month placements end without other options in place.

More than 115,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK under visa schemes, latest government figures indicate, including 81,700 refugees under the sponsorship scheme.

Up to 5,000 people are arriving each week, Lord Harrington said.

Refugees Minister Lord Richard Harrington during an interview on the UK's Ukrainian refugee response, at his office in Westminster, London. PA

He said the government had emailed everyone who initially expressed an interest in the sponsorship scheme, to see if they remain interested in taking part if they are not already hosting.

He expects about 50,000 of the more than 200,000 people who registered their interest initially will go on to be hosts.

In particular, the government wants to recruit extra hosts in areas close to where refugees are currently being sponsored.

This would mean refugees are matched with new hosts nearby, eliminating the prospect of them being uprooted from communities.

“I’m not worried about the shortage of offers; I’m more concerned that they’re in the right area,” Lord Harrington said.

He said his priority was to prevent Ukrainians becoming homeless and he hoped to achieve that by encouraging hosts to continue for longer with existing placements, by recruiting new sponsors and enabling refugees to move into the private rental sector.

More than 1,300 Ukrainian single households and families had been assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness as of July 29.

Lord Harrington said he had met groups representing landlords to ask if they would waive reference requirements for Ukrainian refugees.

Some councils have said they would act as guarantors for those wanting to rent homes, he said.

“I suspect some of them will need an extra budget to do it, but again, I can argue to the Treasury – it’s my job to say: ‘Well, you actually save money, because people then are not becoming homeless’,” Lord Harrington said.

The minister is also asking for extra funding for English language lessons, which he said were the “key to employment”.

He said the amount being requested was in the “low tens of millions”.

“It’s critical," he said. "We will get that money back because people get into employment.”

The Treasury said the monthly thank-you payments for hosts are to “recognise their generosity” and would not affect benefit entitlement nor council tax status.

A spokeswoman said: “We have already acted to make sure these payments are exempt from tax and continue to monitor and review the support provided under the scheme.”

The Sanctuary Foundation, a charity that helps to support Ukrainian refugees and sponsors, is launching a campaign — Not Too Late To Host — with the matching service Opora to encourage more people to offer sponsorship.

Dr Krish Kandiah, the group's director, said the need for hosts was now “even more desperate”.

“War has spread across the country over the past six months and lives have been torn apart," he said.

“Neighbouring countries are struggling to cope. This is why we are urging more British people to welcome Ukrainians into their homes.”

The Ukraine crisis — in pictures

Updated: August 23, 2022, 9:04 AM