The Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched in March 2022 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The scheme enables individuals, charities, community groups and businesses in the UK to sponsor Ukrainian nationals and their family members to come to the UK, allowing them to stay in their home or a separate property.

Which children are eligible under the scheme?

Under the current Homes for Ukraine scheme guidance, children under 18 may apply as part of a family unit which includes their parent or legal guardian. The family unit must remain together in the same sponsor accommodation in the UK.

Unaccompanied children may only apply to the Homes for Ukraine scheme if they are reuniting with their parent or legal guardian who is currently living in the UK. Unaccompanied children who have family settled in the UK might also be eligible under the separate Ukraine Family Scheme.

Why are there restrictions for unaccompanied minors?

The Government has said that the restrictions reflect the Ukrainian government’s policy intention to keep unaccompanied children in regions close to Ukraine. A joint letter from the Home Secretary and Education Secretary further explained the Ukrainian government’s concerns:

The Ukrainian authorities have been clear that children should not be taken into care without their agreement. We continue to work with them and across government to ensure that we are able to respond should there be a need to do more in this area.

The Government has also referred to safeguarding concerns, which include unaccompanied children travelling on their own or with people who aren’t their legal guardians.

Criticisms of the policy

There are criticisms that the UK’s policy approach is failing to safeguard vulnerable children. 

Those unaccompanied minors who are ineligible for the Homes for Ukraine or Ukraine Family Scheme have not been offered an alternative route to the UK. Robina Qureshi, chief executive of the refugee hosting charity Positive Action In Housing, has said:

The thing that is most shocking about this is that the most vulnerable of refugees, unaccompanied children, are being denied access to the UK… We need the government to act urgently for the sake of 18 unaccompanied minors who we are supporting at present who are at risk of trafficking or being forced to live in or return to a war zone. They are frankly terrified…

There have been some reports that children under 18 have been refused a visa and separated from the adult sibling (or other relative) they were travelling with, due to the scheme’s rules on unaccompanied children. At Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 June, Tulip Siddiq raised the case of a 13 year old girl who had applied to the Homes for Ukraine scheme alongside her 18 year old sister. Whilst the elder sister had been granted a visa and was able to travel to the UK, her younger sister was refused and had to return to Ukraine.

There have also been reports of unaccompanied children being refused despite having evidence of permission from their parents or Ukrainian authorities for an adult sibling or UK-based sponsor to act as their legal guardian.

Save the Children’s UK director has urged the government to take a case-by-case approach, observing that there are “safeguarding and child protection risks on both sides of this”. They have emphasised the importance of balancing the “competing dangers” of children remaining in Ukraine or other countries alone or bringing them to UK.

A possible change in policy?

In late April the Minister for Refugees, Lord Harrington, announced that he was “commissioning a particular piece of work to help unaccompanied children” (HL Deb 28 April 2022 vol 821 c 379).

A recent update from Lord Harrington indicated that a change of policy towards applications from unaccompanied children is in the pipeline:

Our policy has been not to accept children on their own, in keeping with the Ukrainian Government’s policy, unless of course they are reuniting with a parent or legal guardian here. As a result of … questions, many discussions with MPs, noble Lords, officials, the Ukrainian Government, local authorities…  I hope to announce a policy change in the days to come. (HL Deb 7 June 2022 vol 822 c 1088)

Further material

Refugees from Ukraine, HC Deb, 16 March 2022

Parliamentary questions

Statements and urgent questions

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