The Government has announced that, from Friday, UK residents can apply to take Ukrainian refugees into their homes under the “Homes for Ukraine'' scheme. Those who wish to participate will be paid £350 a month and would be expected to offer housing for refugees for a period of six months.
The UK has seen an outpouring of support for Ukraine and the people fleeing the war, so there is likely to be high interest in the scheme but there are legal pitfalls to consider that can affect the resident and those they seek to shelter.
Offering anything other than a room in your own main home, for example an annex or separate property, can inadvertently create a tenancy. It is far better for both parties to understand the way they can extend or terminate the agreement now, rather than risking acrimony or legal action later. There are also questions around responsibility for property maintenance, insurance and payment for utilities and council tax that need to be considered before, rather than after, the event.
If the owner of a second home or investment property were to allow several families to stay in a property, it may give rise to the need to register as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) under the Housing Act 2004. While we might hope that local authorities would be sympathetic, unless the government scheme allows exemption, then at the very least licensing will need to be investigated with the local council and their views sought.
Offering a room is not as complex as offering a property but even just offering a room on a long-term basis can affect property insurance or risk breaching mortgage or lease terms. Many mortgage conditions or lease terms will preclude other families staying long term.
There are also statutory overcrowding offences under the Housing Act 1985 and it is uncertain if these are waived by the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme or not. As a minimum, hosts would be well advised to contact their mortgage company or landlord and check their insurance cover.
There is a humanitarian crisis going on in Europe, with over two million refugees flooding across Ukraine’s western borders. There are many reasons why some of these refugees will want to continue on to the UK, they may have family and friends or they may be English speakers.
Whatever their reasons, these are women, children and the aged fleeing war. Offering sanctuary to people in need is to be lauded and anyone considering opening their rooms, homes or properties should not be put off. To make the experience as stress free as possible to all parties, it is advisable to make sure you are aware of the legal implications and have them in good order prior to opening your doors.
Christian Fox is a barrister and is offering free legal advice to anyone applying to take refugees so that the issues can be minimised and the uptake maximised. You can contact Christian at email@example.com
If you are thinking of generously opening your home to Ukrainian refugees, avoid any legal pitfalls by taking free legal advice.