At present, sponsorship offers resettlement to the following people:
- Refugees from the Syrian conflict who are stuck in camps or cities in the Middle East. This includes families who have fled the conflict in Syria but do not have Syrian nationality.
- ‘At-risk’ children and their family members, who have fled conflicts in the Middle East and North African regions.
Sponsorship is not a way of supporting refugees who arrive in Britain seeking asylum or of relocating refugees who are stranded elsewhere in Europe. Also, the scheme is not open at the moment to refugees from other parts of the world.
From 2020, a new scheme will consolidate existing resettlement programmes into one global scheme. The new programme broadens the geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa. It is not yet certain how this will work in practice.
Community Sponsorship is open to refugees who are living in overburdened countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. If they feel they cannot return home or their current living conditions are too difficult, they can apply to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to be resettled to another country that can offer them a better chance of rebuilding their lives. After being interviewed and screened, they are referred to countries, including the UK, which have resettlement programmes.
The UK Government partners with UNHCR to identify the most vulnerable people for resettlement in the UK. They prioritise those who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin: women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others.
At present, community sponsorship groups cannot ‘name’ families for resettlement. Sponsor Refugees also has no influence over who is resettled.
What is the difference between community sponsorship and the existing government resettlement programme for Syrians?
Refugees are selected and screened in the same way, and refugees coming through both routes are included in the government’s pledge of resettling 23,000 refugees by 2020. The difference comes in how people are supported and integrated when they arrive in the UK. Under the government scheme, the services are provided by local authorities and contracted professionals. Through the sponsorship route welcome and support is provided by faith and community groups.
When the scheme was introduced, sponsored refugee families were not in addition to the resettlement number already pledged by the government.
However, in June 2019, we won our campaign to #ExtendtheWelcome, and the government agreed that in the new resettlement scheme, families who are resettled through community sponsorship will be counted in addition to government resettlement numbers.
At present, the UK does not operate a ‘naming’ system whereby refugees already in the UK can apply to bring in family members or friends through sponsorship. Any refugee from the Syrian conflict has to be selected for resettlement by the UNHCR before the UK will consider resettling them here, and that includes through sponsorship. So the choice of which refugees get to come to the UK through community sponsorship is made by the UN and the UK government not by sponsoring groups or Sponsor Refugees.
- Have fled the Syrian conflict (can include families who have fled the conflict in Syria but do not have Syrian nationality) OR
- 'At-risk’ children and their family members who have fled conflict in the Middle East or North African regions
- Are living in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey
- Have been given formal refugee status and selected for resettlement by the UNHCR
- Have been accepted for resettlement by the UK government
- Are not chosen by sponsors (it is not a route to family reunification)
- Are included in the government pledge to resettle 23,000 refugees by 2020 (VPRS and VCRS schemes)
Note: The criteria will change from 2020, with the introduction of a new global refugee resettlement scheme. The details of this are still in development.
The first step is to gather a group together to discuss the idea. Community Sponsorship is voluntary and open to all groups. The group could come from within your mosque or church or community group. It could be formed for the purpose by you and your neighbour. It could be something you do with a group of work colleagues. Sponsoring is a serious, though very fulfilling, commitment and it needs to involve a number of dedicated people with the time, resources and skills to support a refugee family.
The first, and most important, is a strong, shared commitment to welcome refugees into your community and to help them to build a new life alongside you. Sponsorship is a voluntary activity not a full or part-time job, but it is not something you can take on (or drop) lightly.
Members of your group should ideally be able to commit a few hours every week to preparing to welcome a family. It takes about 12 months from the point of forming a group to welcoming a family (although this time is gradually reducing as more groups take part, and can share their advice and resources).
During this time you need to:
- build a strong group
- write safeguarding and complaints policies
- receive consent from your Local Authority
- identify local services and plan how you will support the family to resettle
- submit an application to the Home Office
- raise £9,000
- find and furnish a home, to rent for minimum of 2 years.
You'll then be providing at least 12 months of active support for the refugee family when they arrive.
Yes, you need to show that you are a group that can properly take on a serious commitment to welcome and support a refugee family. That means you will either have to:
- Be an existing charitable organisation or community interest company (CIC)
- Partner with an existing registered charity (Sponsor Refugees may be able to act as your "Lead Sponsor" if you require).
- Establish yourself as a new charity (this takes a long time, and we only recommend you take this route if you intend to sponsor multiple families)
Often the biggest task is finding suitable accommodation for a refugee family. Sponsorship does not involve taking refugees into your own home, even for a short period. The government rightly insists that sponsored refugee families must have ‘their own front door’. In other words, an independent house or flat that is in a decent condition, and has appropriate furnishings and amenities. It must also have a minimum two-year lease.
Given the shortage and high cost of housing in many parts of Britain, finding such a home for a family is a challenge. But it is one sponsoring groups have risen to, including in London, through ways such as linking to local housing associations, finding empty properties owned by their church or mosque, or by using their personal networks with private landlords.
See Find a House
Your group will have to show that you have £9,000 in a bank account ringfenced solely for the purpose of sponsoring. Depending on the part of the country you were from, you might need to raise more money than that. In expensive areas such as London, we recommend that you aim to raise at least £12,000.
On the other hand, you could find that this money is not all spent. Some variables include:
- Whether you find a house rented at social housing rates, or if your group will contribute towards rental costs each month
- The needs and progress of the refugee family you sponsor
- Whether you have to pay for professional interpreters, or you have enough volunteers for this role
- How much you receive in in-kind donations (e.g. furnishings, initial groceries, clothes, etc.)
No, refugees arriving under the Community Sponsorship scheme have the same rights and entitlements of British citizens. This means they can claim benefits, such as Universal Credit, to support themselves as they search for work. This includes Housing Benefit to help with their rent. This means that to a large extent, refugee families coming to Britain through Community Sponsorship have financial independence – your role will be to provide back-up and additional support.
However, if the rent of the house you secure is above the Housing Benefits rate, you may need to top-up the difference, so that it is affordable for the family.
The local authority does not take on the lead responsibility for welcoming and supporting the refugee family. That is your job. But you need the council on your side.
It is obvious why, when you think about. For a start, they are the gateway to accessing many services in your area – in particular school places for the refugee children. Secondly, if anything went wrong with your sponsorship (thankfully, that rarely happens) the local authority would have to assume responsibility for the welfare of the refugee family. All this means that you should develop a good relationship with your local authority and will have to obtain their written consent for your group to sponsor a family.
See Link with your Local Authority
There is no way around this: the answer is, yes. Fortunately, other groups have gone before you, and you can base your plans and applications on their work, while adapting them to your particular community. And you can call on our help at any time. You can contact us firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a call.
It’s a bit of a chore, but the bureaucracy of sponsorship is not a pointless red tape/tick box exercise. It is designed to ensure that groups who take on the serious commitment of welcoming and supporting a refugee family are fit and proper people, capable of taking on the task.
Your group will be working closely with a refugee family that the UN have classified as "vulnerable". You will be helping them to achieve intimate tasks, such as setting up bank accounts, managing their finances, accessing healthcare, and achieving integration goals. Your group will therefore be in a position of power and responsibility, with the potential to both cause and prevent harm. This relationship will also place you in a unique position to be able to spot and respond to potential harm and abuse caused by others.
For this reason, you will be expected to have safe practices in place. This includes:
- Writing safeguarding and complaints policies
- Putting procedures in place to vet members of your group
- Developing processes for training volunteers, reporting concerns, and data protection
- Making links with your Local Authority's Safeguarding Board
But, you don’t have to start from scratch on this, we have lots of resources and templates that you can adapt.
You will need to complete an Application Form. The form asks you to imagine all the things that a refugee family will need help with in order to settle into your community successfully, then write down how you will achieve those things and assigning the tasks to the member of the group most capable of carrying them out. Some of the areas your plan will need to cover include:
- What you will do on the day of arrival and in the first week
- Who will be doing interpreting (you will need people attached to your group throughout the 12-month sponsorship period who speak both English and Arabic)
- Who can help the refugees to sign on with doctor, a dentist, register the children for school, etc
- Who will be helping with benefit assessments, access to training or find a job
- Who will lead on budgeting and record keeping
A dedicated team at Home Office will review your application, and hold a meeting with you, to ensure that you have everything you need in place. They are not trying to "catch you out" - they just want to ensure that you are fully prepared, and these meetings can be very helpful.
This is certainly one of the most important things you will need to help your refugee family with, for in most cases they will have only the most basic English before they get here. They will learn a lot quickly just through chatting with you and being out and about in your community. Organising informal conversation classes is a good idea. But of course, learning English well enough to settle successfully requires more than that.
So, sponsors have to provide formal English language tuition, by a suitably qualified ESOL teacher, for 8 hours a week within one month of refugee family’s arrival. This needs to continue for at least twelve months or until a refugee has reached what’s called Entry Level 3 (whichever is the sooner).
Obtaining English language qualifications will help refugees in finding work.
When can refugees coming through community sponsorship work and what is the role of the sponsoring group?
The adult refugees resettled in this way can work from Day 1. In reality of course, they will probably need a few weeks or even months to settle in, explore their options, pick up enough English and gain the confidence to work in a new country. It may be that a training course or adult education is a better option than rushing into the first job they can find. Your role is to help and guide the refugees, with assistance from professionals at the Job Centre and other places. You may also be able to use your personal contacts and local networks to find jobs, work experience or training opportunities.
You will need to complete the following steps to become a community sponsor. There is no perfect order - but the very first step should be to build a strong group. As you can see from the number of steps, this is a big project, and not one you can do alone.
Click on each step for resources and advice
- BUILD A GROUP
- BECOME OR PARTNER WITH A CHARITY
- FIND A HOUSE
- LANGUAGE – PROVIDE ESOL CLASSES AND INTERPRETERS
- LEARN ABOUT THE BENEFITS SYSTEM
- DEVELOP A SAFEGUARDING FRAMEWORK
- LINK WITH YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITY
- PREPARE A WELCOME PACK
- SUBMIT AN APPLICATION TO THE HOME OFFICE
- SUPPORT THE FAMILY WHEN THEY ARRIVE
As a very general rule of thumb, you are likely to find you have to devote about 12 months to preparing for and being a sponsoring group. There is a few months’ work to be done to form your group, draw up your plans and make an application. Once you have submitted your application, it currently takes about 6 months for the Home Office to approve your group, and for a suitable refugee family to be identified and flown to this country. And then you are committed to supporting the family for 12 months, though the level of support should gradually reduce as the family become more independent. After that 12 months, the formal sponsorship arrangement is over, but in many instances individuals maintain a relationship with the refugee family simply because friendships have developed.
But sponsorship is mainly about respecting refugees and allowing them to stand on their own two feet?
Yes, becoming a sponsor begins with a humanitarian impulse to help people in difficulty. But from the start, the partnership between the sponsoring group and the refugee family should be a respectful one between equals.
In the early weeks, the refugee family will probably need a lot of help as everything will be new and strange to them. But that doesn’t mean you are their servants, constantly at their beck and call. There should be boundaries.
And that works the other way: you need to give the family space, to allow them to work things out for themselves. The point is to help the family build a new, independent life in your community, not for them to be dependent on you.
The better way to look at it, in the first instance, is what do the refugees get out of being sponsored? If you are a good sponsoring group they should get an excellent welcome and support package to help them build a new life in a new place that is delivered in a first class way but with an extra ingredient: great human warmth.
Resettlement offers the best chance to a refugee to rebuild their lives safely and securely, and community sponsorship is often the best form of resettlement. Where sponsorship has been operating for years, all the evidence shows that refugees who are sponsored achieve the best outcomes, whether it is finding suitable work quickly, learning a new language or integrating into their new community.
The main satisfaction for the sponsoring group is knowing all this. But those people who have experience of sponsoring also say it is an incredibly rewarding personal experience. The University of Birmingham have studied the benefits for volunteers who take part in Community Sponsorship. Read their findings here. The benefits they found included:
- Individual Gains (such as enriched lives, boosted self-esteem, reduced loneliness, a sense of purpose)
- Acquiring new skills and experience
- Improved Employability
- Stronger and more inclusive communities
Community Sponsorship transforms the lives of both the family and volunteers. Find out what groups and families have said.
- It Is a practical way for local people to respond to the global refugee crisis
- It provides a safe and legal route for refugees to come to the UK
- It makes maximum use of the capacity, commitment and networks of citizens to help refugees
- It improves the chances of refugees to settle in, learn English and find work
- It strengthens community bonds
- It sends a strong message that refugees are welcome in the UK