Homes for Ukraine: lessons learned

Information and best practice to support councils in their efforts to ensure accommodation for Ukrainians arriving in Britain is of a suitable standard and that guests are safe.

The newly launched Homes for Ukraine scheme will allow Ukrainians (and their immediate family members) with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can offer them a home such as a spare room or unoccupied residential self-contained unit. Sponsor guidance  and council guidance along with updated FAQs can be found on the Government website.

Councils will be required to carry out housing and safeguarding checks to ensure accommodation is of a suitable standard and that guests arriving in the UK are safe.

To support councils in this role, the LGA will be sharing examples of good practice and approaches taken by councils which could be of interest to others across the country. We are continuing to build on a range of resources to help councils as they navigate their response to the Ukraine crisis, while showcasing some of the important work being carried out by the sector.

Good practice examples/resources

Buckinghamshire Council

Ukraine Home Safety Check (Word)

Devon County Council

Host families home visit: Property and host checklist and risk assessment (Word)

Lancaster City Council

Ukraine inspection form example

South Derbyshire District Council

Examples of effective partnership working between councils and their voluntary and community sector

We know many councils already work closely with their local voluntary and community sector (the “VCSE”) and many of the existing strategic and operational partnerships between councils and their local VCSE were strengthened during the pandemic

The VCSE are playing an active role in the ‘matching’ process between sponsors and Ukrainians via the homes for Ukraine scheme. This sector are also one of the critical local and regional partners in developing support to both sponsors and to Ukrainians. More information on the broader role of councils can be found on the Homes for Ukraine council guidance.

Below are some live examples of different ways councils and their local voluntary and community sector are working with one another in response to this crisis. Please note that these live examples could be updated when partnerships develop further.

Somerset County Council

Somerset County Council has worked with several local and national VCSE groups as part of their ongoing resettlement pathways for both Syrian and Afghan schemes. As such they are well placed to mobilise their partners and think about an appropriate response to both sponsors and guests in this significantly different resettlement pathway, both locally and also nationally as they advocate for safer matching processes. 

Their first step was to set up a VCSE workstream “Support for Sponsors and Guests” as part of their multi-agency response to the Homes for Ukraine scheme alongside 6 other workstreams children and education, accommodation, finance and payments, health and social care, communications and information, intelligence and governance.  The VCSE workstream has recognised three areas of activity, welcome hubs, training and support for sponsors and ESOL provision. 

Somerset CC is commissioning several VCSE partners under the umbrella of one organisation to deliver a county-wide network of welcome hubs,  The hubs will enable access to statutory and voluntary services to guests and sponsors in a number of geographical locations across their county.  There will be several primary hubs, based in larger towns, that will serve a number of pop hubs in more rural locations. 

The data they are pulling from Foundry will inform the locations of the hubs, the type of services required and also connect VCSE partners with the statutory services who are already working on the checks of both sponsors and guests. 

The welcome hub network will be coordinated and managed by the Council in partnership with voluntary and community partners, pulling together a wonderful web of services already in existence in many communities.  A local VCSE partner has carried out a mapping exercise of these services which will inform the design and delivery of the model.   

They also anticipate a number of gaps in services, by working together they will explore, design and delivery new services to meet the gaps. They intend to build in service user feedback as part of the ongoing design, recognising that this is a new way of working that will need to be refined. 

They are committed to offering as much support as they can to sponsors to minimise sponsor breakdown and equip them with the skills, knowledge and support required to help their guests integrate and settle well in Somerset. The council recognise they are in the early stages of this practice, but already have an incredible network of contacts across the county representing both organisations and volunteers, keen to offer support to guests and sponsors.

Leeds City Council

Leeds City Council has worked with several local and national migrant charities and groups as part of their ongoing resettlement pathways for both Syrian and Afghan resettlement schemes. The city has a proud history of welcoming those fleeing war and their approach to welcoming Ukrainians into their city is no different. 

The council has worked closely with their voluntary and community sector for many years, and they were able to reap the benefits of this during the pandemic. The council works with their migrant voluntary and community sector through several structures, the Leeds Migration Partnership, the Strategic Migration Board and through their Migrant Community Networks. The Leeds Migration Partnership is facilitated by the council but steered by local voluntary and community sector organisations. The migration community network has been used effectively during the pandemic and subsequent vaccine roll-out to engage communities across the city. The council intend to use this network to provide community support to newly arrived Ukrainians. They are utilising these existing structures and relationships to plan, prepare and share information with relevant voluntary and community groups across Leeds. 

Leeds have been able to build in lessons learnt from working with their voluntary and community sector throughout the pandemic into their partnership response to this crisis. For example, the council’s first step has been to prioritise early engagement with strategic partners and a local Ukrainian association group. Through working with these partners early, they have identified what newly arrived Ukrainians might need (and importantly do not need). For example, the Ukrainian association group informed the council early on that they did not need clothes or physical items donated and that financial support would be most appropriate. 

The council are working closely with their Community Foundation and others to strategically plan what wraparound support arrivals might need. The community foundation has previously worked with the council in response to the rough sleeping crisis across the city as they were well placed to responsibly provide support to those that needed it. The council have therefore initiated the Leeds Together for Ukraine appeal in partnership with the Leeds Community Foundation, raising over £85,000 so far. This fund will be strategically managed by the council and partners such as Leeds Community Foundation to ensure it is used most effectively. There is a general acknowledgement amongst council officers that the local migrant voluntary and community sector is best placed to dictate what the sector and vulnerable migrants might need. 

The Council plan on providing two rounds of grants, the first round will be used to support organisations providing wraparound support as well as to newly settled Ukrainians directly. The second round will be provided to charities and community groups in their work to support all refugees and those with insecure migration status across the city. This fund is continuing to be designed with voluntary sector partners to ensure the city responds and supports all those fleeing war and settling in the UK equally. 

The Council have also set up a welcome hub for newly arrived Ukrainians located near the local Ukrainian association, which is free to travel to and from. The hub will enable access to statutory and voluntary services to guests and sponsors and is currently focused on statutory support such as welfare advice, access to healthcare and registering with GPs. The council expects this hub to develop and provide further support as issues continue to arise. To ensure the hub is as welcoming as possible, the council are also exploring hiring Ukrainians from the local association.  

To get in touch with the community foundation in your area visit the UK Community Foundation Network webpage. To read through what other community foundations are doing in partnership with their councils, visit this UK Community Foundation Network webpage.

Cornwall Council

Cornwall Council have strong relationships with their local voluntary and community sector. Cornwall established the voluntary sector forum to co-ordinate the activity of the voluntary sector across the county and provide a direct route into engaging with the council on key issues.  

The first step the council took in planning for the arrivals of Ukrainians was to convene a weekly partnership call and utilise these existing structures. Through this weekly partnership call, the council has established workstream leads ranging from housing inspections, community cohesion, safeguarding ESOL to health and schools. The council has taken a ‘shared problem, shared solution’ approach to engaging with their voluntary partners, this involved recognising that their voluntary and community sector partners might be better placed and equipped to provide ‘wraparound’ community support to those arriving from Ukraine into Cornwall.

The council sought expressions of interest from local organisations to provide community ‘wraparound’ support, as a result Volunteer Cornwall were awarded a grant by the council. Throughout the pandemic, volunteers throughout Cornwall worked alongside their council to help vulnerable residents in their place. The council are using the same approach to provide wraparound support to sponsors and refugees. Volunteer Cornwall have been commissioned to use volunteers to meet both sponsors and guests in their locality to arrange what support they might need and complete any necessary checks. The volunteers are local residents and as such will be able to befriend newly arrived Ukrainians and help them integrate into their communities.   

Volunteers are tasked with going into host households and getting to know both the guests and sponsors, the council stressed that these volunteers are instructed to have an ‘inquisitive mind’ much as they did throughout the pandemic, meaning they tasked to ask questions and probe if needs be. The volunteers will report back and escalate any concerns they might have. The council believe this approach is good for ongoing safeguarding if guests are integrated into their communities.  

The grant provided by the council enables the organisation to hire a volunteer coordinator as well as provides seed money to be used at the organisation’s discretion. Partners are also working with their local community foundation to help raise further funds to flow into this stream of work. So far, the coordinator aims to recruit as many as 100 local volunteers to help support sponsors and guests across the county. The coordinator is also tasked with working with the voluntary sector forum to coordinate wider community activity and ensure these are accessible and available to guests and sponsors. 

The council is also in the process of mapping available voluntary and community sector services across the county. Much like other areas, they have identified potential gaps in adult English learning services and mental health and well-being provision. They are not just analysing the geographical spread of service provision but barriers caused by complexity as well. For example, providing support to those applying for Universal Credit and assistance with navigating the requirements needed for this.  

The council recognise they are in the early stages of providing community support to both hosts and guests and that the needs of this group will likely change over time.

York City Council

York is a ‘City of Sanctuary’ and the UK’s first ‘Human Rights City’. York has a vibrant voluntary and community sector that supports refuges and migrants across the city. As such, before the war in Ukraine begun, the council was already facilitating a refugee coordination group that met every 6-9 weeks. The group includes all local refugee organisations, statutory partners, and local universities. As the Homes for Ukraine was being developed, the council used this existing forum to strategically coordinate the city’s response and drew in other experts as needed.

The refugee coordination group is meeting fortnightly to informally share intelligence, this consistent engagement has led to a shared sense of responsibility amongst delivery and strategic partners.

Early on the council recognised that the Homes for Ukraine’s scheme could be difficult to navigate, they therefore worked with a key voluntary partner, York City of Sanctuary, to support both sponsors and newly arrived Ukrainians. City of Sanctuary is a small voluntary organisation based within the city that has no paid staff, yet it has played a central role in welcoming and integrating Ukrainians into York.

The organisation’s activity initially involved counselling perspective sponsors on the requirements and realities of hosting newly arrived Ukrainians. City of Sanctuary has also been helping prospective sponsors to make matches on the portal with individuals in Ukraine. It has since recruited 400 volunteers and has worked with local partners to map and signpost to available early help for Ukrainians and sponsors. As its activity has developed, the council has provided the organisation with an initial grant to continue their important work and employ a paid staff member to co-ordinate their activity.

Due to the manageable flow of Ukrainians settling in York via the Homes for Ukraine scheme, the council’s approach to delivering services has been holistic and reactive to the needs of both sponsors and guests. Similar to other localities, the council is currently operating a single drop-in structure where all professional agencies working with sponsors and guests can co-convene. It was noted that the most recent drop-in had over 130 Ukrainians attend.

The council are using intelligence gathered at their fortnightly refugee coordination group and at the drop-in to respond to emerging needs and provide effective wraparound care. For example, the council have recently commissioned mental health and well-being support for single parents, this came from intelligence from voluntary sector partners that this cohort in particular were struggling to integrate into the community.

The council has commissioned an array of other non-statutory support to meet the needs of Ukrainians as well, from purchasing equipment such as laptops, phones, and bus passes to providing mental health support via York MIND. Focusing on the medium to long-term needs of Ukrainians, the council is also providing accreditation support to Ukrainians so they can become self-employed interpreters.

Local partners are entering their next phase of their strategic planning for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, led by the council, partners will begin to map out services and assess the depth of provision. The decision for this strategic evaluation is to assess what further provision might be needed and if these services can be extended to other migrant groups within the City that might need them.

As part of this medium-term planning, the council will move the management of the Homes for Ukraine scheme from the communities’ team within York City council, into the housing team who already manage other resettlement schemes in anticipation of significant housing need.

The council are also considering taking a ‘local area coordination’ approach to supporting the social integration of Ukrainians into the City. These coordinators already work effectively across the city to empower their fellow neighbours to become activity citizens, they do this by working with them in a strength-based way.