The exclusion of Ukrainian refugees who have come to stay with their British families from hundreds of pounds a month in support has forced charities to step in to accommodate the newcomers. I can reveal.
Critics have condemned the British government for operating a “two-tier system” for Ukrainians fleeing the war, meaning some have no choice but to walk away from the relatives who want to take them in.
Brits who host Ukrainian people under the Homes for Ukraine program will receive a monthly payment of £350 and an initial payment of £200 to cover additional costs.
But those who support family members under the family reunification program receive no additional income from the government.
Lauren Scott, chief executive of Refugees at Home, said the charity accommodates Ukrainian refugees who can no longer stay with relatives in the UK.
She warned that refugees whose guests come to the UK via the family route are not entitled to additional financial support and have to change accommodation several times.
“We decided early on that we would accept people from Ukraine who have family visas because unfortunately they do not qualify for the all-round support [Homes for Ukraine] Visa program offerings,” she said I. “There’s a real gap there.
“The hosts are not entitled to this £350 payment, they are not entitled to the all round support from local authorities. So there is a possibility that people in the family visa program may have to switch hosts more frequently until they find their relocation accommodation, while the sponsorship program represents that six-month commitment.”
“I spent more on food in three weeks than in the previous three months”
Phil Sheffield brought his fiancee Yana and their daughter Irma to the UK as part of the Family Reunion program and drove to Poland to pick them up.
Mr Sheffield, who runs a window cleaning business in Sussex, said his family’s arrival had a “massive impact” financially.
“I probably spent more eating in two or three weeks than I did in the previous two or three months,” he said.
Mr Sheffield said the £350 monthly payment under the Homes for Ukraine scheme would have helped with clothing for the women as he is currently the only one working.
“They only came with hand luggage,” he said. “They didn’t want to take too much stuff on the train through Ukraine because it would take the children’s place. So when they come here, they have nothing.”
He added: “The only thing I managed to get out of West Sussex County Council was a £120 voucher to spend on groceries at Tesco. That was the first thing we had and probably the last we will get.”
Mr Sheffield is also unaware of what the visa entitles the family to and has had conflicting information about its relationship with Universal Credit.
“I might as well be talking to the cherry tree I’m looking at in my garden as I am to the Home Office because no one knows what’s going on,” he said.
He worries that – unlike the Homes for Ukraine program – if Yana applies for Universal Credit, his income will be counted as part of her application, resulting in a reduction in the amount she receives.
The Department for Works and Pensions confirmed that a couple living together cannot apply as singles as it is based on household income. Indeed, if Mr Sheffield and his fiancé were applying as a couple, his income would be taken into account normally.
Mr Sheffield said he felt penalized for having the family visa and not the Homes for Ukraine scheme, even though that was the only option at the time.
“The only reason we initially chose the family visa was because there was no other visa,” he said.
Ms Scott said 90 per cent of the 150 people from Ukraine the charity has supported so far have arrived via the family visa system.
Juliet Sanders, CEO of Feeding Families, a Tyne and Wear-based organization that supports people affected by food poverty, said I She had already begun helping sponsors who were struggling to meet the needs of the refugees they host.
Ms Sanders said: “The family we had last week was a family of five and they were joining their son who has been living in the UK for some time. So he brought her over on the family visa but suddenly it’s a single man supporting six people and he said, ‘I want her over here but I can’t do that’.
“He took her over but couldn’t accommodate her, couldn’t feed her. So he came to access support from here because he doesn’t get any additional help with that.”
What is the difference between the schemes?
The Family Reunion program allows people with close British relatives to obtain a UK visa.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the government expanded the scheme and relaxed rules to allow more people to use the scheme to get to safety in Britain.
About two weeks later, the Homes for Ukraine scheme opened, allowing Brits to sponsor Ukrainian refugees even if they didn’t know them personally.
Many Brits matched with Ukrainians on Facebook before submitting joint applications under the scheme.
Once their guests arrive in the UK, their hosts are entitled to £350 a month plus an initial welcome payment of £200.
But those who applied before the Homes for Ukraine program was opened under the Family Program are not entitled to the same financial assistance.
The organization was able to provide the Ukrainian family with around five boxes of groceries at a cost of around £100. And Ms Sanders said hosts could see their grocery shopping bills increase by £30 a week if they take responsibility for catering for their guests.
Ms Sanders also said heating bills were an issue.
“People come here and find it very cold,” she said.
“Some houses have broken down because the host says I can’t heat the house with the cost of living and the utilities here. It’s just not possible.”
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, warned that the financial discrepancies could create a “two-tier system” for Ukrainian migrants.
“We are concerned by reports that some Ukrainians arriving on family visas are encountering problems,” he said.
“Not all relatives will have the space or resources to support their family members – which is why they and local governments need to be given the same funds as are provided under the Homes for Ukraine program. Otherwise we will effectively end up in a two-tier system.”
A government spokesman said: “Thanks to the generosity of the public in offering Ukrainians fleeing the war their homes and through our Ukrainian family programme, more than 71,800 visas have been granted, with 21,600 Ukrainians safely arriving in the UK.”
“The Home Office processes thousands of visas every day – this shows that the changes we have made to streamline the service are working and we will continue to build on this success to speed up the process even more.”