Homes for Ukraine - Use of Manses for Accommodation of Refugees

Information for congregations seeking to offer manses to Ukranian refugees.

Last Updated: 1 April 2022

The "Homes for Ukraine" scheme to provide housing for Ukrainian refugees has been developed at pace and the full implications are not yet clear. This note is part of the Church of Scotland's broader response to the crisis and has been prepared to help congregations to consider some of the property-related issues involved should they join the scheme, which opened on 18 March. It is not intended to be exhaustive and you should read the specific guidance on the website dealing with other important areas such as safeguarding.

Identity of sponsor

Currently, matches must be made between refugees and individual sponsors. This requires a direct connection between the refugee and the sponsor and is therefore unlikely to be useful to large numbers of refugees. The Scottish Government ("SG") is acting as a super-sponsor for 3,000 refugees immediately, and in the longer term for at least 10% of the total number coming to the UK. The SG will provide temporary accommodation whilst longer-term provision is arranged.

If and when it becomes possible for an individual or church body to become a sponsor on behalf of a congregation, you should ensure that there are clear lines of communication between that person and the Kirk Session.

Consents

Ministers and Kirk Sessions considering joining the scheme, whether by sharing manse accommodation or by accommodating refugees in vacant manses, should discuss their proposals with Presbytery as early as possible. The consent of Presbytery must be obtained if a Kirk Session proposes to house refugees in a vacant manse, and ministers must obtain the consent of their Kirk Session and Presbytery if they wish to share occupation of their manse with a refugee family. Presbyteries should consider, when approving a proposal, the impact which it might have on the practical implementation of the Presbytery Plan.

If a property is owned by the Church of Scotland General Trustees, their consent must also be obtained in each case before any arrangement is entered into and after the approval of Presbytery has been secured. Contact should be made with the General Trustees through Brian Waller at bwaller@churchofscotland.org.uk

IMPORTANT: Recovery of vacant possession

This is an important consideration. Congregations making vacant manses available under the scheme should be aware that recovering possession of the property will not be automatic at the end of the agreed period of occupation. Ideally, at the end of the agreed period (or even before this, depending on events in Ukraine) the family will be in a position to move on, but this may not be the case. The unwelcome situation may arise in which a congregation needs to recover possession of the manse (whether because it can no longer afford to pay ongoing costs, or because the manse is required for occupation by an incoming minister, or for some other reason) and it is not possible to achieve this by agreement. In such a situation, it is likely to be difficult to obtain the required court authority to do so.

In the normal situation of a landlord seeking recovery of a let property, the courts will give sympathetic consideration to the circumstances of the tenant. A court will not simply grant immediate authority to remove a tenant where the statutory grounds for eviction have been established, but will look for evidence of the availability of alternative accommodation and will consider the particular family and personal circumstances of a tenant. The larger the family group accommodated, the more difficult it will be to regain possession, as suitable alternative properties are likely to be difficult to find within the locality.

The impact of the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a state party, is also relevant here. This emphasises the importance of maintaining the unity of a refugee's family, and it also requires the UK to "accord to a refugee treatment as favourable as possible" as regards leases and other contracts relating to property.

Before agreeing to house a refugee family in a vacant manse, therefore, you should be aware that it is not possible to guarantee that you will be able to recover possession of the house as and when you need to do so in the future. A congregation in vacancy with permission to call a minister should understand that it will not be able to do so for at least 12 months, and possibly longer, if the manse is occupied under the scheme.

The SG is aware of concerns around this issue and is actively considering the creation of a bespoke legal solution but no information is currently available as to whether this might happen and, if so, when.

Licence Agreement

It is not permitted to charge rent, and so a tenancy cannot be used to regulate the occupation of the property.

It will be important to make it clear at the outset that there is no intention to create legal relations which might create a permanent right of occupancy, and that the house is being occupied under a personal licence. A Licence Agreement should be put in place as soon as possible to document the arrangement. The Law Department has prepared a suitable style of Agreement. A Ukrainian translation of this Agreement is also available to download.

You should ensure that those being accommodated have understood the terms on which the house is being made available. This should operate both to give them the reassurance of certainty around the terms of their occupation and to facilitate any future discussions. You should think in good time about how you deal with language barriers, and should involve a translator where necessary. The Association for Ukrainians in the UK has branches in Edinburgh and Glasgow and might be able to provide help with this.

Duration

Under the scheme, the minimum duration of this arrangement is 6 months and it seems to be currently anticipated that it will not be required for longer than 12 months, although it is not possible to be certain at this point. Individuals will be granted 6 months' immigration permission on entry and will have to make a further application for immigration permission, which can be for up to 3 years. You should think about how long the arrangement should last in each case. If the accommodation is only going to be available for 6 months, or for 12 months, this should be made explicit in the Licence Agreement. It may become possible to convert a rent-free licence arrangement into a lease should permission to stay for 3 years be granted and should this also meet the needs of the congregation.

Property-related costs

The Licence Agreement should set out clearly any costs which will lie with the occupants, and which will be met by the congregation. Will the cost of all utilities be met by the congregation? If so, will this be the case for the full period of occupation? Has this been costed and is the congregation confident that it has sufficient funds to cover the anticipated increases in these costs over a period of 12 months? The style Licence Agreement makes provision for payment of utilities by the congregation for a maximum period of six months, but it is open to congregations to make a different arrangement. If utilities are not transferred to the names of the occupants, what happens if difficulties arise in recovering possession and the congregation remains liable for these substantial costs?

No information is as yet available as to whether any Council Tax concessions will be available for properties occupied by refugees and clarity is being sought on this.

Property minimum standards

The accommodation provided can be a spare room or a separate self-contained property. It must be fit for people to live in and suitable for the number of people to be accommodated. It should be large enough to allow for families to be re-united, if and when those currently being required to remain in Ukraine to serve in the armed forces or in essential occupations are able to join their families in the UK.

It's not clear what standards will be applied in terms of the condition of the property. The UK Government website simply says that it should be "safe and free from health hazards, be heated and give your guests adequate access to bathroom and kitchen facilities".

Consider the safety of the property. Have gas and electric tests been carried out?

It must not be "overcrowded" as this is defined in legislation. This means that only married or cohabiting couples can sleep in the same room, along with any children under the age of ten. There are also space standards, based on the size of the rooms, number of living rooms and bedrooms and the age of the occupants. More information can be found on Shelter Scotland's website.

The Council will visit to check that the accommodation being offered is appropriate and that everything is in place for the refugees.

It could be useful for the Presbytery Property Convener to inspect the house initially to confirm its suitability for occupation for this purpose, and thereafter to monitor the manse condition every couple of months.

HMOs

An HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) is a property that is shared by three or more people who are members of more than two families, and it requires specific licensing by the Local Authority. There are additional measures and obligations on owners e.g. to reduce risk of fire. It is unlikely that properties made available under the scheme will be housing (for example) three single people who are not related to each other, and thus become an HMO, but if someone shares their own family home then it is possible that the HMO regime could apply. Currently, the HMO regime has not been relaxed under the scheme.

Insurance

Broadly, insurers have agreed that where refugees are being temporarily accommodated as non-paying guests in the home of an insured person there will be no impact on existing cover and you do not need to inform your insurer. You should, though, be aware of any existing policy terms that might apply. A statement from the Association of British Insurers can be found at Ukraine Crisis ABI.

If homeowners wish to house refugees in their second homes, guest homes or rental properties, or for longer than 12 months at their primary residence, the ABI has said that they should discuss this with their insurer in the first instance. The Church of Scotland Insurance Company is seeking confirmation from Aviva that the occupation of vacant manses on this basis will fall within existing cover and this note will be updated once the position is known. It is thought likely that there will be an exclusion from cover for damage caused by guests legally on the premises.

In all cases, you should intimate the arrangement to the Insurance Company to ensure that existing insurance cover is not affected.

Payment received from the UK Government

The monthly payment of £350 received from the UK Government is currently being offered for up to 12 months, and will be paid in arrears. The congregational treasurer should be responsible for the administration of this payment, which should be applied towards the costs arising from the arrangement. This income will not be assessed for M & M purposes and you should include it in your accounts as a separate item, under "grants received".

Sharing occupation of manses

If a minister wants to accommodate refugees in the manse, there are additional things to consider. How might this impact on Presbytery Mission Plans? What happens if they or their family don't get along with the refugees placed in their home? What if the minister retires or is called to another charge? How will payment of the monthly £350 "thank-you" be administered and directed?

If for any reason you need to end the sponsorship arrangement early, you should inform your local Council as soon as possible and seek its assistance in helping guests to find alternative accommodation.