Note: This blog was originally published on 20 March 2023 and updated on 24 March 2023 to include new Scottish Government figures on the number of displaced Ukrainians remaining on cruise ships. Other figures have not been changed.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in large numbers of Ukrainians being displaced, both within Ukraine and across Europe. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 5.4 million Ukrainians had been displaced within Ukraine, and 8 million across Europe, by 10 February 2023. In response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, the UK Government established three visa schemes for displaced Ukrainians:
- A Family Scheme for those with family members in the UK.
- An Extension Scheme for those who held a valid UK visa on or after 1 January 2022.
- A Sponsorship Scheme through which displaced Ukrainians are sponsored by hosts that offer them accommodation for at least six months. The Scottish Government acted as a supersponsor for the scheme but applications have been paused since 13 July 2022.
This blog provides an update on the operation of the Supersponsor Scheme one year after it was launched. SPICe has produced previous blogs on support for displaced Ukrainians in Scotland and the Sponsorship Scheme.
The UK Government provides data on the number of arrivals of displaced Ukrainians through the Sponsorship Scheme with a Scottish sponsor. By 14 March 2023, 38,183 displaced Ukrainians had been granted visas with Scottish sponsors, of which 23,778 had travelled to the UK. This means that 14,405 displaced Ukrainians hold a visa with a Scottish sponsor but have not travelled so far. The chart shows the impact of pausing the Supersponsor Scheme on visa applications. Of those that have arrived in the UK with Scottish sponsors, 19,257 were sponsored by the Scottish Government and 4,521 by hosts directly.
However, displaced Ukrainians with a Scottish sponsor are not required to stay in Scotland once they have arrived in the UK, and likewise those with sponsors from elsewhere in the UK can travel to Scotland, so these figures may not reflect the actual numbers of displaced Ukrainians currently in Scotland.
The Scottish Government provides accommodation for displaced Ukrainians it sponsors where required. This can be temporary ‘Welcome’ accommodation or longer-term accommodation, which is available for at least six months. Pressure on the availability of both temporary and longer-term accommodation was identified as the main reason for the pausing of the scheme in a Scottish Government review published in November 2022.
To create temporary accommodation capacity, the Scottish Government chartered two cruise ships to provide Welcome accommodation. As of 14 February 2023, the Scottish Government estimated that around 6,200 people were in Welcome accommodation – 4,070 in hotel rooms and 2,130 on the cruise ships.
In a letter to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on 12 January 2023, Neil Gray MSP, the Minister with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, stated that the contract for the cruise ship docked in Glasgow will end at the end of March 2023 and the one for the ship docked in Edinburgh in June 2023.
The Scottish Government has published data on the number of displaced Ukrainians who have been disembarking the ships. By 14 February 2023:
- 505 had disembarked M/S Ambition in Glasgow
- 795 had disembarked M/S Victoria in Edinburgh.
Data for March was not available at the time of publication. However, by mid-February, 995 displaced Ukrainians remained on the M/S Ambition (contract due to end on 31 March 2023) and 1,140 on the M/S Victoria (contract due to end on 13 June 2023).
Update 24 March 2023:
The Scottish Government published updated figures on 23 March 2023. By 14 March 2023, 365 peopled remained on the M/S Ambition. In total, 1,135 displaced Ukrainians disembarked the M/S Ambition between 17 September 2022 and 14 March 2023. 1,125 displaced Ukrainians remained on the M/S Victoria by 14 March 2023.
The most recent information available for how the Scottish Government plans to rehouse the remaining people before the end of the contract for the M/S Ambition is as follows:
- In response to a parliamentary question, the Minister stated on 21 February 2023 that the “Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council have been meeting with guests to help them make an informed decision about their next accommodation”.
- In response to another parliamentary question, the Minister stated on 9 February that Glasgow City Council is working with neighbouring local authorities to “maximise the number of suitable volunteer hosts and social housing opportunities for guests on board”. He also confirmed that those for whom no suitable offer is available, or who refuse one, will be placed in other Welcome accommodation, but that this may be elsewhere in Scotland.
- Giving evidence to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on 9 February 2023, the Minister stated that other local authorities have been visiting the M/S Ambition to facilitate matching elsewhere and that 50 families were likely to be moving to Aberdeenshire.
March update on the Scottish Government review of the Supersponsor Scheme
The Scottish Government paused its Supersponsor Scheme in July 2022, primarily citing accommodation capacity issues, and announced it would undertake a review of the scheme. The review of the Supersponsor Scheme published in November 2022 stated:
Even when taking into consideration a pause to applications from July, Scotland still reports the highest number of total applications, visas issued and arrivals per head of the population of any of the four nations […]. A considerable achievement far beyond our initial commitment.
By 14 March 2023, 23,778 displaced Ukrainians with Scottish visas had arrived in the UK according to UK Government data. For the rest of the UK, the corresponding figures are:
- England: 86,390
- Northern Ireland: 867 (however, there is a known undercount in the arrival data for Northern Ireland)
- Wales: 6,551
The review set out 16 interventions aimed at improving the operation of the scheme, including efforts to improve the process by which displaced Ukrainians are matched into longer-term accommodation, increase access to the private rented sector, and strengthen employability support. It also included a list of seven criteria for reopening the scheme, which centred on accommodation capacity, mitigating pressures on local authority services, and plans for meeting the costs and challenges associated with reopening.
The Minister gave evidence to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on 9 February 2023. He also provided a written update to the Committee on progress in implementing the 16 interventions proposed in the review of the scheme on 7 March 2023.
A summary of updates in relation to accommodation are provided below.
Creating longer-term accommodation capacity
A lack of supply in longer-term accommodation was identified as one of the main reasons for pausing the Supersponsor Scheme in the Scottish Government’s review. The review proposed the use of a ‘Ukraine Longer Term Resettlement Fund’ as well as considering modular housing to create additional longer-term accommodation capacity.
A fund of up to £50 million over several years for registered social landlords “to bring properties into use and increase the supply of housing” was announced in September 2022. The Scottish Government published a list of five approved projects on 16 February 2023. In his update to the Committee, the Minister wrote that the £12.6 million allocated to date will deliver more than 750 homes with 400 completed so far. No information is available about when the remaining properties will be completed. In addition, a “further pipeline of potential projects has been identified but will not be sufficient to meet the housing need levels currently in Welcome Accommodation.”
The review identified the use of modular housing as a potential short and longer-term accommodation option. This is prefabricated housing produced off-site in modules, which can then be assembled on-site more quickly than traditional housing. The update confirms that the Scottish Government is working with Angus Council to potentially pilot modular housing but does not contain timescales. It also outlines ongoing work with other local authorities to identify additional potential sites and consider the viability of longer-term options.
The update also states that the Scottish Government has been working with Palladium, an organisation specialising in humanitarian responses, to work on delivering modular housing. A parliamentary question answered on 7 March 2023 confirms that the Scottish Government is reviewing bids for a successor contract.
The Scottish Government co-runs a national service with COSLA, which matches displaced Ukrainians with longer-term accommodation offered by hosts. Local authorities and third sector organisations have also been involved in matching displaced Ukrainians. In addition, some displaced Ukrainians have found matches independently, including through social media.
The Scottish Government review identified improvements in the matching process as one of the 16 interventions that would improve the operation of the Supersponsor Scheme. In his update to the Committee, the Minister wrote that additional staffing resources have been made available to local authorities and on cruise ships to improve matching. Ten local authorities have also been directly involved in matching individuals on the M/S Ambition.
Accessing the private rented sector
An Office for National Statistics survey of displaced Ukrainians in the UK from October and November 2022 indicated that not having a guarantor or references, not being able to afford rent, and not being able to afford a deposit were key barriers for Ukrainians trying to rent privately.
Witnesses that gave evidence to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee in January and February 2023 echoed these findings. For example, the Ukrainian Consul noted that even when displaced Ukrainians are employed, a lack of bank history or guarantor can prevent them from being able to rent privately in Scotland. Local authorities also identified a lack of private rented sector housing supply and high rents as barriers.
Proposals for improving access to the private rented sector contained in the Scottish Government’s review of the Supersponsor Scheme include:
- piloting a deposit guarantee scheme
- scoping a national ’headleasing’ scheme to incentivise private landlords offering accommodation.
With regards to deposit assistance, the update states that local authorities have raised concerns about a lack of private rented sector capacity and administrative barriers and that the Scottish Government is now looking to “explore how we build on the support already in place at a local authority level.”
The update explains that a headleasing scheme would involve an intermediate body, for example a local authority, subletting a building, which it itself rents from a landlord, to displaced Ukrainians. The Scottish Government has consulted on this intervention, including with stakeholders from the private rented sector, and received positive feedback. The update said that officials are currently learning lessons from existing local schemes and considering how such a scheme could be implemented. No further timescales for implementation have been given.
Will the scheme reopen?
The Minister also provided information in his update on whether the conditions for reopening the scheme set out in the review were met. He wrote:
The review of the Super Sponsor Scheme developed a set of seven criteria to ensure any plan to reopen the scheme is safe and deliverable […] I can confirm that […] the scheme continues to remain closed to new applications. This will be reviewed again in three months’ time.
The decision was informed by an assessment of the criteria which concluded that six of the seven conditions for a safe re-opening cannot be met at this time. The only criteria that we consider has been met is number three which states that ‘displaced people can access information and advice about relevant services and support’.
One year ago, the Scottish Government established its Supersponsor Scheme through which 19,257 displaced Ukrainians have arrived in the UK. However, the scheme has been paused since July 2022 due to continuing pressures on temporary and longer-term accommodation, which the Scottish Government is trying to address through a range of measures. It remains to be seen how quickly these measures will take effect, whether the scheme might reopen, and if so, when.
Annie Bosse, SPICe Research