Homes for Ukraine hosts are rejected over 'plug sockets and ponds'

Council zealots worried about plug sockets and garden ponds ‘are blocking UK homes for refugees’… but anything is better than freezing cold bunker, says mother who is sheltering in basement with her daughter

  • Homes for Ukraine hosts are rejected over ‘plug sockets and garden plugs’ 
  • Huge row has erupted over cumbersome programme, which has hit many bumps
  • Now an IT glitch is understood to be interfering with processing of applications 
  • Problems with the Homes for Ukraine scheme? Email [email protected] 

British hosts have been rejected by the Homes for Ukraine scheme because they have plug sockets that are ‘too low’ or garden ponds, it was claimed yesterday.

Following a huge row over the cumbersome programme – which includes a 50-page application form – further troubling examples of nit-picking bureaucracy have started to come to light.

The Daily Mail highlighted yesterday how architect Mike Rundell was told his five bedroom, multi-million-pound art deco villa in south London, will need ‘upgrading’ so he can take in refugees.

Now the head of the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils and carries out home safety checks, has been confronted with further staggering examples of red tape during a BBC interview.

On Radio 4’s World at One, presenter Sarah Montague, said: ‘There’s some things that we have heard about, for example, people being told that they need to drain their ponds if they have a child coming and that this might hold up the process.

‘That one family we heard of… gave their Ukrainian family to a different family because their plug sockets were too low for children.

‘Is that sort of thing really stopping somebody coming from a war zone?’

One Ukrainian mother, Iryna Ovchar, (left) told the Mail she had heard of other UK homes being rejected – as she sleeps in a concrete basement with five-year-old daughter Zlata

The 31-year-old called for the process to be streamlined because ‘anything is better than a cold bunker’. Pictured: Zlata (right) and her friends wait in a freezing bunker in Ukraine

LGA chairman James Jamieson said: ‘We want to be pragmatic about this.

‘We will not apply the same high levels of standards that we would normally if you were renting a property – because we recognise that somebody coming from a war zone is going to be infinitely safer in a home in the UK even if has got a little bit of damp or whatever.

‘But at the moment it’s not what is stopping people coming.’ He urged ministers to give councils information on potential hosts so that properties can be checked in advance.

One Ukrainian mother, Iryna Ovchar, yesterday told the Mail she had heard of other UK homes being rejected – as she sleeps in a concrete basement with five-year-old daughter Zlata.

The 31-year-old called for the process to be streamlined because ‘anything is better than a cold bunker’.

Official guidelines for hosts set out how their homes must have ‘safe and working electrics’ and the owner must have a gas safety certificate – but it does not specify that plugs must be out of children’s reach. Nor do the guidelines mention garden ponds.

Architect Mike Rundell has been told he will need to ‘upgrade’ his multi-million pound house in Herne Hill, south London, to ensure it is fit for Ukrainian refugees

The art deco villa has five bedrooms, landscaped gardens and stunning onyx-clad bathrooms

The Grade II listed three-storey property also features wallpaper designed by renowned artist Damien Hirst, a wraparound shower and a grand entrance hallway with a solid nickel handrail. But officials said Mr Rundell needed to ‘upgrade’ his home

It came as frustrated hosts announced plans to march on the Houses of Parliament over the shambolic scheme this weekend.

NHS mental health nurse Lauren Corbishley, from Devon, said: ‘We are all traumatised with this process. I am sick of being fobbed off. We applied on March 18 and have heard nothing.’ 

Miss Corbishley has already spent more than £1,000 for a hotel room in Poland for the Ukrainian woman and her 17-year-old daughter she is attempting to sponsor.

Lord Harrington, the refugee minister, who is in charge of the programme, conceded it was a ‘shambles’.

An apparent IT glitch has left an unknown number of cases in limbo – and Lord Harrington admitted he knew nothing about it until he was confronted by callers to an LBC radio phone-in. 

He said: ‘Whatever you’ve said I find it hard to disagree with. The Home Office and the British Government generally was not geared up to this kind of volume.

‘It has taken longer to do than we thought it would. It’s not quick enough. In my opinion this should take no longer than 48 hours.’ 

Asked when he expected the 48-hour target to be reached the minister said: ‘My hope is the week after next.’ 

He added he may have to consider major changes to the scheme after Easter if it is not working properly by then. 

Lord Harrington said he was unaware of an apparent technical problem involving hosts who submitted their applications on the first day of the scheme, March 18.

‘The first time I’ve been told of the glitch was tonight,’ he said.

Lord Harrington said 32,000 completed Homes for Ukraine applications have been sent in, with 9,000 visas issued so far. 

Between 1,000 and 2,000 visas are handed out per day, he added, while a separate scheme for Ukrainians with UK family links has received 33,000 applications and issued 24,400 visas.

Out of all applications only a number in the ‘low hundreds’ had been refused or set aside for further investigation, he said. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘We know that progress has not been sufficient and many applicants are still waiting for decisions.’

  • Are you facing problems with the Homes for Ukraine scheme, including the home inspections? Email [email protected]

Anything is better than a freezing cold bunker, says mother waiting weeks to get to Britain 

A single mother hiding in a freezing shelter with her child has urged Home Office officials to waive ‘scrupulous’ checks on the homes of UK sponsors as ‘anything is better than a cold bunker’.

Iryna Ovchar, 31, and her daughter Zlata, five, have been waiting three weeks to join her friend Sophie Alkarnaz, 31. 

But the women, who met working on Royal Caribbean Cruise ships in 2014, have not yet had any response to an application they made on March 18.

Miss Ovchar and Zlata spend most days sheltering in the basement of her apartment building in a small town in western Ukraine. 

She has heard of Ukrainians whose UK sponsors have been rejected after their homes failed to meet Home Office requirements, which mean houses are checked for spaciousness and health and safety hazards.

Iryna Ovchar, 31, and her daughter Zlata, five, have been waiting three weeks to join her friend Sophie Alkarnaz, 31 (pictured right) 

Miss Ovchar and Zlata spend most days sheltering in the basement of her apartment building in a small town in western Ukraine. Pictured: Zlata (right) and her friends wait in a freezing bunker in Ukraine

‘When I hear that the sponsor’s house has been inspected and some minor things did not meet the standards, and as a result, accommodation was not approved, I just want to say one thing to inspectors, “Here in Ukraine people live in a cold bunker. We appreciate such scrupulousness and wishes to welcome us in the best conditions, but it is not the most important thing right now”.

‘Believe me, anything is better than a cold bunker, and there is no more precious thing than peace and safety,’ the recruitment professional said.

Mrs Alkarnaz has offered to house her old colleague in a two-bed terrace she normally rents to tenants near her home in Swansea. The mother-of-two said she has been told it will need to be inspected by her local authority but she is still waiting on a date.

She said: ‘I feel absolutely hopeless, I can’t sleep at night knowing that I’ve got a home for her ready… she just wants to keep her child safe.’

Despite the wait, Miss Ovchar said she is grateful for the help. ‘So many people around the world texted me since the war started… offering help. But, frankly, the real help came from one person, and that is Sophie from Wales,’ she said.

‘There are literally no right words in this world to express our gratitude to these people who are willing to accept complete strangers in their houses.’

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