A British woman who is hosting her brother and his Ukrainian family under the government’s family scheme says the arrangement has left her struggling to make ends meet because of inbuilt discrimination in the rules.
It is one of many problems identified in both of the government’s Ukraine hosting schemes – the family scheme and the sponsorship scheme.
The woman, Julie Crowther, and her brother, Mark Burgess, are British citizens. Burgess is married to Victoriia, who is Ukrainian, and the couple have two daughters, Emma and Lily, aged seven and three. The family fled their home in Kyiv after the war started. Crowther offered to accommodate them in their three-bedroom home in Stockport.
She has a range of health problems including fibromyalgia and a damaged nerve at the base of her spine and is unable to work. Her husband is a bus driver and does not earn a large wage.
Crowther says household bills have more than doubled since the family arrived but that unlike hosts on the homes for Ukraine scheme who can access £350 per month, family scheme hosts cannot access support payments from government.
“We are a low-income family and our bills have gone through the roof,” said Crowther. “My husband is doing more overtime just to put food on the table. He has to have an operation soon and won’t be able to work for a while. I don’t know what will happen to us then. The family scheme is discriminatory because we cannot get payments from government to cover the costs of hosting family members.”
Crowther is in touch with lawyers and is exploring the possibility of a legal challenge about the discrimination she says those hosting under the Ukraine family scheme are experiencing.
Other problems on the two government hosting schemes relate to a lack of oversight and checks conducted before Ukrainian refugees move in with hosts.
One female host in her 60s discovered that the newly arrived 21-year-old woman she was hosting was involved in sex work and was being exploited and controlled by a pimp in Ukraine. Police were alerted and the young woman moved out.
In another case a young Ukrainian woman who moved in with a female host was found to have serious mental health problems, which were not identified before the placement started. NHS mental health services became involved and clinicians said the young woman was not suitable for the scheme because of her health problems.
The host said the experience had been very distressing and that checks should have been carried out before her guest moved in. “It hasn’t put me off helping Ukrainian refugees but more oversight of hosting is needed,” she said.
The Guardian previously revealed the case of a Ukrainian woman who was left homeless just days after a host in Brighton demanded money from her to pay utility bills.
Tim Naor Hilton, the chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Ministers must act urgently to regulate matching and make sure councils are properly funded to carry out checks on properties where refugees are staying.”
A spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency said: “Some local authorities already report being overwhelmed in terms of being able to carry out checks on a timely basis, in offering financial support to hosts, and in finding emergency accommodation for those whose relationship breaks down or are in unsuitable accommodation.
“Close support and prompt communication between the relevant ministries, councils and vetting processes are essential to ensure that accommodation is suitable prior to the arrival of refugees.”
A government spokesperson said: “Taken together, our generous homes for Ukraine and Ukraine family schemes are one of the fastest and biggest visa programmes in UK history. The government is easing the financial burden on households who are hosting their Ukrainians relatives, giving people in the UK on either of our Ukraine schemes full access to work, study and benefits, including universal credit payments, from day one.”