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 the discrimination inherent in the rules.
This is one of the many problems identified in the two government reception programs in Ukraine – the family program and the sponsorship program.
The wife, Julie Crowther, and her brother, Mark Burgess, are British citizens. Burgess is married to Victoria, 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 put them up in their three-bedroom house in Stockport.
She suffers from various health issues, 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 salary.
Crowther says household bills have more than doubled since the family arrived, but unlike Homes for Ukraine hosts who can access £350 a month, family program hosts cannot access payments from government support.
“We’re a low-income family and our bills have skyrocketed,” Crowther said. “My husband is working more overtime just to put food on the table. He is due for an operation soon and will not be able to work for a while. I don’t know what will happen to us then. The family plan is discriminatory because we cannot get payments from the government to cover accommodation costs for family members.
Crowther is in contact with lawyers and is exploring the possibility of a legal challenge regarding the discrimination she says people in the Ukrainian family program face.
Other problems with the two government hosting programs relate to a lack of monitoring and checks carried out before Ukrainian refugees move in with hosts.
A 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. The police were alerted and the young woman moved.
In another case, a young Ukrainian woman who moved in with a woman was found to have serious mental health issues, which had not been identified before the placement began. NHS Mental Health Services became involved and clinicians said the young woman was not suitable for the program due to her health issues.
The host said the experience was very distressing and that checks should have been done before his guest moved in.
The Guardian previously revealed the case of a Ukrainian woman who was left homeless just days after a host in Brighton asked her for money to pay her utility bills.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Ministers must act urgently to regulate matching and ensure councils are properly funded to carry out checks on properties where refugees are staying.”
A spokesperson for the UN refugee agency said: “Some local authorities are already reporting being overwhelmed in terms of their ability to carry out timely checks, offer financial support to hosts and find alternative accommodation. emergency for those whose relationship breaks down or are in unsuitable housing.
“Close support and rapid communication between ministries, advice and competent vetting processes are essential to ensure that accommodation is suitable before refugees arrive.
A government spokesperson said: “Taken together, our generous Ukraine Homes and Ukrainian Family Programs are one of the fastest and largest visa programs in UK history. The government is easing the financial burden on households hosting Ukrainian loved ones, giving people in the UK benefiting from one of our Ukrainian programs full access to work, education and benefits, including Universal Credit payments , since the first day.