Displaced Ukrainians in Scotland – seven months on

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to nearly one third of Ukrainians being displaced from their homes. By 11 October 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that more than 7.6 million Ukrainians had been displaced across Europe.

Immigration and asylum are reserved matters but the Scottish Government supports refugees and other displaced people in Scotland to access services like healthcare and education. The Scottish Government sets out its approach in the New Scots strategy. This blog analyses the Scottish Government’s involvement in the operation of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme seven months after it was introduced.

This is an extended blogpost, so we’ve added a contents popout below to help readers navigate around the blog.

Displaced Ukrainians in the UK

The UK Government resisted calls to waive visa requirements for displaced Ukrainians. Instead, it established two new visa schemes in March 2022, the Ukraine Family Scheme, and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

Ukraine Family Scheme

The Ukraine Family Scheme allows those eligible to live, work and study in the UK, and access public funds for up to three years. To be eligible, applicants must have lived in Ukraine prior to January 2022, and either be Ukrainian and have a UK-based family member, or be the family member of a Ukrainian citizen who is also accessing the scheme.

Homes for Ukraine Scheme

The Homes for Ukraine Scheme, sometimes called the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, provides the same rights, however, it does not require a family connection to the UK. Instead, displaced Ukrainians can be sponsored by individual hosts or organisations who are able offer accommodation for a minimum of six months, in return for £350 a month.

For readability, we use the term ‘displaced Ukrainians’ to refer to people who have been displaced from Ukraine by the invasion, even though non-Ukrainian close family members of eligible Ukrainian nationals applying to the schemes can also apply, as long as they were residing in Ukraine on or immediately before January 2022.

You can read more about these visa schemes in our previous blog. In addition, the UK Government announced an Extension Scheme in May for displaced Ukrainians who held a valid UK visa on or after 1 January 2022.

The UK Government provides figures on the uptake of the Ukraine visa schemes. As of 11 October 2022,

  • 53,800 Family Scheme visas
  • 137,200 Homes for Ukraine Scheme visas
  • 12,300 Extension Scheme visas

were granted for the whole of the UK. No information is available about the number of Ukraine Family Scheme or Extension Scheme visas granted to those with family members in Scotland specifically, nor the numbers of displaced Ukrainians who have arrived in Scotland on such visas. Consequently, this blog focusses on the operation of the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

The Scottish Government as a supersponsor

On 16 March 2022, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would act as a supersponsor for the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. This meant that displaced Ukrainians could nominate the Scottish Government as their sponsor instead of needing to be matched with individual sponsors before being able to enter the UK. Once they arrive, the Scottish Government provides temporary accommodation while displaced Ukrainians are matched with, or look for, longer-term accommodation. The Supersponsor Scheme was in operation from 18 March to 13 July 2022, when it was temporarily paused. Applications that were submitted before the scheme was paused are still being processed and displaced Ukrainians whose visas have been granted can continue to travel to the UK. The Supersponsor Scheme remains paused to date.

According to provisional data released by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, 35,357 visas granted through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme by 11 October 2022 named a Scottish sponsor. Of those with visas granted, 20,591 displaced Ukrainians with Scottish sponsors had arrived – 16,868 sponsored by the Scottish Government and 3,723 by individual sponsors.

How has the Homes for Ukraine Scheme been going?

The Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee has been scrutinising how the Scottish Government is supporting displaced Ukrainians. It received submissions from the Scottish Refugee Council, JustRight Scotland, COSLA, Highland Council, and Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership.  The evidence provided to the Committee highlighted several issues facing displaced Ukrainians in the UK. Witnesses expressed concerns about pressures on temporary accommodation, delays in the matching process, and possible safeguarding issues with individual hosts.

The Committee also heard from Yevhen Mankovskyi, Ukraine’s acting Consul General in Edinburgh, on 16 June 2022. The Committee summarised issues they received evidence on in a letter to Neil Gray MSP, the Scottish Government Minister with special responsibility for Refugees from Ukraine, on 27 June 2022. The Committee drew particular attention to issues around finding longer-term accommodation, transport, and funding for councils making resettlement plans. The Committee received a response on 30 June 2022 in which the Minister reiterated his commitment to securing longer-term accommodation and confirmed that a mechanism for payments to local authorities had been agreed with the UK Government.

The Supersponsor Scheme has been paused since 13 July 2022. The Scottish Government stated that over two thirds of the 7,000 displaced Ukrainians that had arrived in Scotland by that point had applied through the scheme, which “exceeds the 3,000 the Scottish Government committed to welcome when the scheme launched in March” and that “a temporary suspension [was] needed to ensure safe accommodation can continue to be provided to those who have already applied and may now travel to Scotland”. The Welsh Government had previously established its own Supersponsor Scheme but then paused it on 10 June 2022 citing similar capacity issues.

The Scottish Government stated:

“We will review our position in three months, but of course if circumstances change during that time we will bring that date forward. In the meantime we are taking significant action to increase the capacity of our temporary accommodation and are also boosting our matching system to maximise the number of displaced people placed with volunteer hosts who have completed the necessary safeguarding checks.”

The actions the Scottish Government announced included hiring a cruise ship to provide temporary accommodation, providing funding to facilitate the refurbishment of 200 unused council properties in North Lanarkshire, and deploying additional staff to local authorities to speed up the matching process. The cruise ship, docked in Edinburgh, has a capacity of 2,200 people and has been accommodating displaced Ukrainians since July 2022.

September 2022 update

On 8 September 2022, Neil Gray provided an update on displaced people from Ukraine through a Ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament. He confirmed that the Scottish Government was hiring a second cruise ship to provide temporary accommodation. It is docked in Glasgow and has capacity for 1,750 people.

With regards to delays in the matching process, he stated:

“Matching has progressed more slowly than I would wish, and I continue to urge local authorities to complete checks as quickly as possible […]”.

He outlined several additional measures being taken by the Scottish Government to address these issues, which include:

  • funding additional staff in local authorities to speed up the allocation of longer-term accommodation
  • implementing a digital matching tool
  • planning measures to recruit additional hosts
  • working with partners to secure new longer-term accommodation.

On 22 September 2022, Neil Gray also announced a £50 million resettlement fund for local authorities and registered social landlords. The funding will be used to refurbish properties and bring them into use as longer-term accommodation for displaced Ukrainians.

How many of those with Homes for Ukraine visas granted have arrived in Scotland so far?

Provisional data from 11 October 2022 shows that while 20,591 displaced Ukrainians have arrived so far, 35,357 visas naming a Scottish sponsor have been issued through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

While the number of applications made through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme levelled off after the Supersponsor Scheme was paused, the number of arrivals, specifically of displaced Ukrainians sponsored by the Scottish Government, has not.  This is shown in the graph below.

Security of hosted accommodation

Displaced Ukrainians can be matched with hosts in Scotland either by being directly sponsored by them, or by being sponsored by the Scottish Government and then subsequently matched to a host offering accommodation. To volunteer, hosts are required to offer accommodation for at least six months. Given that the Homes for Ukraine Scheme started in March 2022, the initial period for accommodation for those who volunteered at the beginning of the scheme is now ending.

Concerns about long-term accommodation for displaced Ukrainians staying with hosts had previously been raised by Positive Action in Housing. In September, Neil Gray MSP told the Parliament that the UK Government was contacting hosts to encourage them to extend their offer of accommodation and also confirmed that he was supporting the previous UK Minister for Refugees’ call to double the payments for hosts to £700.

No specific data is currently available for what proportion of displaced Ukrainians in Scotland are at risk of losing their accommodation from hosts in the coming months. The Office for National Statistics conducted a survey of individual Homes for Ukraine sponsors across the UK. Sixty-three per cent of hosts indicated that they were planning to provide accommodation for 12 months or less. However, it should be noted that only five per cent of sponsors surveyed were in Scotland and the survey was conducted in July 2022.

Data provided by the Scottish Government indicates that by mid-September 2022, 4,495 people who were granted visas through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme had arrived in ‘longer-term’ accommodation. Accommodation counts as longer-term if it is expected that displaced Ukrainians will be able to stay for between six and twelve months. The number of people in longer-term accommodation includes some who are being accommodated in social housing. In addition, this number doesn’t include displaced Ukrainians who have made alternative arrangements, for example by renting privately, staying with friends or family, or some who have found hosts informally. Consequently, it is unclear how many displaced Ukrainians are being hosted by private individuals. However, given that the numbers of Ukrainians arriving in the UK through the scheme peaked in May 2022, it is possible that significant numbers could be needing alternative accommodation from autumn 2022.

Displaced Ukrainians in different types of accommodation

The Scottish Government also provides figures on displaced Ukrainians in temporary ‘Welcome accommodation’, which includes hotel rooms and cruise ship cabins. Their estimates suggest that about 6,540 people were in Welcome accommodation by mid-September 2022. The figures on displaced Ukrainians in longer-term accommodation and those in Welcome accommodation add up to 11,035 individuals but the total number of arrivals with a Scottish sponsor by 13 September 2022 through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme was 17,582.

The Scottish Government notes that matching data:

“is incomplete and may underestimate the total number of completed and currently active matches because some Local Authorities have returned partial data on matches and Local Authorities may not be aware of all the informal matches in their area”.

Further, it is important to point out that displaced Ukrainians who arrived in the UK with a Scottish sponsor are not required to stay in Scotland but may travel to other parts of the UK or abroad. In addition, not everyone sponsored by the Scottish Government or entering the UK through the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme will need accommodation provided to them.  It is possible that some will have made their own arrangements, including renting their own accommodation or staying with friends and family. It also appears that the figures on displaced Ukrainians in Welcome accommodation do not yet include individuals being housed on the second cruise ship in Glasgow. Nevertheless, the currently available data contains no information about what category of accommodation the remaining 6,547 people that arrived through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme with Scottish sponsors by mid-September were in.

Annie Bosse, SPICe Research

Blog image: “Lost” by toniwbusch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

This blog was originally published on 14 October 2022 and updated on 27 October 2022. Updates include:

  • the inclusion of arrival figures from 13th instead of 20th September 2022 in the last three paragraphs
  • additional qualifications on figures about the number of displaced Ukrainians in longer-term accommodation