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Why is the Government facing legal action over the Homes for Ukraine scheme?

Protesters holding Ukrainian flags and banners as they attend a Vigil for Visas protest outside the Houses of Parliament, central London (James Manning/PA)
Protesters holding Ukrainian flags and banners as they attend a Vigil for Visas protest outside the Houses of Parliament, central London (James Manning/PA)

The Government is facing legal action over “inordinate and unreasonable delays” in processing hundreds of visa applications made in March by Ukrainian refugees.

Would-be hosts have instructed lawyers on behalf of hundreds of refugees who have spent weeks waiting to come to the UK.

Here is some information about the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the waits refugees and their UK sponsors have been experiencing.

– What is the scheme?

The Homes for Ukraine programme allows individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to bring people escaping the war to safety even if they have no ties to the UK.

Anyone with a room or home available for at least six months can offer it to a Ukrainian individual or a family, though those offering to host will be vetted and Ukrainian applicants will undergo security checks.

The scheme opened for applications more than six weeks ago on March 18.

– How many UK sponsors have offered up their homes?

More than 200,000 would-be hosts have registered their interest.

Members of the public have been praised for their “amazing” and “incredible” generosity.

– How many Ukrainians have applied and how many have arrived?

As of last week, some 74,700 refugees had applied for visas through the sponsorship scheme, according to official figures.

Some 11,110 have arrived in the UK – about a fifth of the 51,300 people with visas granted under the scheme.

Government officials believe some people applied for visas so they have the option of coming to the UK but are staying in countries bordering Ukraine so they can return home sooner, while others have changed their minds.

There are also multiple cases where Ukrainians are unable to travel because some family members, usually young children, are waiting for longer than their relatives for their documents.

And there are reports of some refugees not being made aware that they have permission to travel.

– Why is the Government facing legal action?

There have been widespread concerns about the length of time refugees have been waiting for their visas under the scheme.

Would-be hosts have compiled figures showing that hundreds of Ukrainians who applied for visas within the first two weeks of its launch are still waiting.

The groups who are threatening legal action on behalf of those waiting – Vigil 4 Visas and Taking Action Over The Homes For Ukraine Visa Delays – say the delays have put people in Ukraine and border countries at risk and heaped “considerable pressure and strain” on UK hosts.

A judicial review could be brought on the grounds that the Home Office has a policy of delaying the March applications and deciding later applications instead – or that the system is “so chaotic and unstable” that it is unreasonable.

– What has the Government said?

In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Boris Johnson admitted the UK could have reacted faster in helping Ukrainian refugees, though he said “large numbers” are now coming to Britain.

Previously, the Government has acknowledged that waits of several weeks for some refugees are “unacceptable”.

In early April, Home Secretary Priti Patel apologised “with frustration” after coming under fire over the time it was taking for refugees to arrive.

And refugees minister Lord Harrington previously said the process was too long and not “as seamless as it should have been”.

A Government spokesman said it has streamlined the visa system, simplified the forms, and boosted staff numbers and that officials are “now processing visas as quickly as they come in”.