The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has seen many Britons want to do anything they can to provide help to those suffering.
For some that could mean offering up their home to those fleeing the country, after the British Government launched its ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme last week.
The initiative will see UK residents paired with Ukrainian refugees to offer them a place to stay in their home, or another property that they own.
Having a residence secured in the UK will help them to ensure entry to the country.
Helping hand: Tens of thousands of Britons have already expressed their interest in housing individuals or families that are trying to escape the conflict in Ukraine
According to health secretary Sajid Javid around 150,000 kind-hearted Britons had expressed an interest in becoming a ‘sponsor’ under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Those wanting to help can register their interest on the Gov.uk website, and they will then be contacted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and asked to apply if they and their home are deemed suitable for the scheme.
Homes must be offered for a minimum of six months, and those offering them must have the legal right to remain in the UK for at least that amount of time.
No official requirements have been published about the size of home or facilities required, but the DLUHC has said it will carry out ‘checks’ on both the sponsors and their homes ahead of any refugees being placed.
If they pass the checks, sponsors will get £350 per month for hosting a family.
Those who have signed up already are being applauded for their kindness.
But while no-one wants to put Britons off offering help, experts have said that there are some legal and financial checks that they should carry out to make sure the process goes smoothly.
This is because insurance and mortgage firms, for example, might have rules which could affect homeowners if they welcome another family into their home.
As we explain below, many have waived some of their usual requirements in order to support customers that want to offer assistance to Ukrainians.
Finance firms said they didn’t want to put their customers off helping Ukrainian refugees, but some asked that they contacted them to let them know if they planned on providing housing
What do potential sponsors need to check?
Insurance experts, for example, have recommended that they get in touch with their insurer to see if having another person or family staying in their home could affect their right to claim, or increase their premiums.
Ceri McMillan, home insurance expert at comparison site GoCompare said: ‘Many Britons will be looking to offer sanctuary to Ukranian refugees as the Government-backed scheme “Homes for Ukraine” launches, which is a wonderful thing to do and we wouldn’t want to put anyone off doing this.
‘We would advise that, if you are planning on offering accommodation for a Ukranian refugee, then it is worth telling your insurer.
‘Given that this is such a new scheme, we don’t yet know how insurance companies will approach this so do remember to check with them.’
Some suggest that homeowners should call their insurer to inform them if they become a sponsor under Homes for Ukraine – but some insurers say it isn’t necessary
James O’Hara, spokesman from Ceta Insurance which is a broker specialising in non-standard home insurance, added: ‘We have spoken to a number of insurers on our panel who have confirmed that their premiums will not be affected if policyholders decide to have a refugee stay in their home, but would ask that they are made aware so they can update their systems.
‘There may however be others that do decide to alter their premiums.
‘Our advice would therefore be to let your provider know. It may impact the price, it may not – but if you do not update them of the change, it could affect your right to claim.’
This is Money contacted several major insurers to ask them whether they would charge customers higher premiums for housing a refugee family, and whether it would impact their cover.
Most said nothing would change for homeowner customers, though one, Axa, said that cover would be impacted if the refugees stayed for more than a year.
It said: ‘Axa home insurance customers and landlords of private residential properties who wish to offer temporary accommodation to refugees within their homes are able to do so.
Any refugees being housed for longer than 12 months will be considered permanent and policyholders should contact us to discuss their individual circumstances
‘They do not need to make Axa aware and cover will not be impacted for up to 12 months. Any refugees being housed for longer than 12 months will be considered permanent and policyholders should contact us to discuss their individual circumstances.’
Aviva said: ‘For home insurance, we’ll treat refugees as guests, and our customers don’t need to tell us if they are housing refugees in their homes. They’ll be covered by the policy in the same way as guests staying in the home.’
It also said it would extend the policy to those housing refugees from different countries other than Ukraine.
Admiral said: ‘We’re supporting Admiral Home Insurance customers who welcome any refugees, including those from Ukraine as guests into their homes.
‘This means that they don’t need to notify us if they’re hosting a refugee family in their home.’
Sarah Smith, head of underwriting for home, pet and travel at LV= General Insurance said: ‘Our home insurance customers don’t need to let us know and their cover won’t be impacted.’
Those insured with Direct Line, Churchill or Privilege also don’t need to worry about their insurance being affected if they decide to offer a home to a Ukrainian person or family.
The parent company of the three firms said: ‘We want to reassure our home insurance policyholders who have stepped up to welcome refugees to live with them rent free in their home, that they do not need to notify us and will be covered under existing policy conditions.’
Stuart Bensusan, head of home insurance at Surewise said: ‘Should any of our policyholders be generous enough to welcome a Ukrainian refugee as a temporary guest in their home, their insurance cover will not be impacted. This should be the case with all good insurance policies.’
Checks: Landlords and second home owners may need to take some extra steps if they are planning to offer up a whole property under the Homes for Ukraine scheme
What about landlords who want to help?
Experts have warned that second home owners or landlords may need to take some extra steps if they want to allow Ukrainian refugees to use one of their properties, especially if they would be the sole residents.
Several of the insurers said landlords would need to contact them to let them know if they were offering a home.
Admiral said: ‘If they are providing a home for refugees in a second property that they own – such as a holiday home – they will need to contact us. We just need to be made aware from an underwriting point of view to make sure it’s noted on the policy.’
A lawyer has also suggested that there are some property law ‘pitfalls’ that those offering second homes or investment properties need to be aware of – though he stressed that this should not put them off from offering support.
Christian Fox, a barrister at Becket Chambers, said: ‘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.
‘Offering sanctuary to people in need is to be lauded and anyone considering opening their rooms, homes or properties should not be put off.
‘However, 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 landlords do want to sign a tenancy agreement to set out each party’s responsibilities, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has said it will provide tenancy agreement wording for them to use.
Those allowing several families to stay in a single property might need to contact their local council to check their rules on Homes in Multiple Occupation
He also said that they might need to be aware of local council rules surrounding Homes in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
‘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,’ he said.
‘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.’
Do volunteers need to inform their mortgage lender?
Another factor to consider for homeowners with mortgages is whether their lender has any rules around who can live in the property.
It is expected that many lenders will make special exceptions for those who offer to help refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme – but experts have said that it is worth homeowners investigating their lenders’ policy and notifying them of their plans.
Best practice would be to contact your lender and notify it as to your intentions. In most circumstances, there would be no impact on your mortgage
Mark Harris, SPF Private Clients
Again, this was said to be particularly important where landlords or those offering whole properties were concerned.
Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘Very few lenders have formally announced their position with regards to welcoming refugees into mortgage borrowers’ homes.
‘One which has is Skipton building society, which has vowed to “do everything it can” to support borrowers who wish to be part of the Homes for Ukraine scheme.’
‘More generally speaking, many lenders allow ‘lodgers’ to be taken into a borrower’s property.
‘These would normally take the form of a room within the home, with shared communal areas, such as the kitchen and lounge, and no locks on the doors. This would typically be for up to two people.
‘What is key is that there is no formal tenancy agreement in place.
‘Where a homeowner is intending to utilise a whole property or annex, this may be considered to be a letting and therefore the situation muddied.
‘The lender would be concerned about the possibility of the “lodger” acquiring legal rights.
‘Best practice would be to contact your lender and notify it as to your intentions. In most circumstances, there would be no impact on your mortgage.’
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