Frequently Asked Questions
All you need to know about community sponsorship answered
What is community sponsorship?
Community Sponsorship is a government scheme that gives power to ordinary people to directly resettle refugee families to their community.
As a community group, you will take responsibility for supporting the family from the moment they step off the plane, through their journey of resettlement as they stand on their own two feet - helping them to access local services, navigate their neighbourhood, learn English, find work, and build social connections.
Find out more here.
The UNHCR identifies the most vulnerable refugees from around the world, where resettlement to the UK would offer the best durable solution.
Until 2021, the scheme focused on resettling people who were displaced by the Syrian conflict, and living in camps and cities in the countries bordering Syria (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Eqypt, Iraq).
The resettlement scheme is now broadening to include refugees across the word, in response to world events and the global context. For 2021 - 2022, we anticipate that the majority of resettled families will continue to be from Syria or the MENA region.
Community Sponsorship is not a way of supporting refugees who arrive in Britain seeking asylum or of relocating refugees who are stranded elsewhere in Europe.
Refugees who feel they cannot return home or their current living conditions are too difficult, 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. This include women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence amongst others. You can see a full list of criteria here
At present, community sponsorship groups cannot ‘name’ specific people or families for resettlement. Sponsor Refugees also has no influence over who is resettled.
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 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.
Refugees are selected and screened in the same way. 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.
Yes, from March 2021, all refugees who are welcomed through Community Sponsorship will be counted in addition to government resettlement numbers.
Anyone can sponsor. There are currently more than 240 groups across the UK, some were already established groups, others began as friends with a shared passion and others were neighbours who had never met before!
Even during the pandemic, we have seen new groups develop - people have reached out and built a team through their social networks, facebook groups, and websites, and zoom to form new groups. And don’t worry if you start small: we’ve seen a group of three neighbours grow into scores of volunteers over time.
We suggest that about 8-12 committed individuals is a good size for a core group.
If you need some support, get in touch - we can help you to build a strong local team.
A key requirement to be accepted as a sponsor by the Home Office is that you are:
- Already a registered charity or Community Interest Company (CIC) OR
- You become a registered charity or CIC OR
- You link up with an existing registered charity or CIC which will act as your ‘Lead Sponsor’
This requirement reflects the fact that Community Sponsorship is a significant commitment for a volunteer community group and the Home Office wants to be sure that every group is able to fulfil its responsibilities to the refugee family.
We would recommend that you only go down the route of becoming a charity or CIC (a quite long and complicated process) if your group definitely aspires to support multiple families over a number of years. You can find some initial guidance on this route here.
Instead, we recommend that you approach an existing charity to act as your “Lead Sponsor” Organisation.
A Lead Sponsor is a registered charity that agrees to take legal responsibility for your group. Any charity can act as a Lead Sponsor - but we recommend that you choose an experienced Lead Sponsor, as they will have ready-made structures in place, and the necessary resources to support you throughout the process.
Sponsor Refugees is the largest Lead Sponsor in the UK, for over 40 groups - and can take on this role for you.
Yes, we’d be happy to! Sponsor Refugees are the Lead Sponsor to more than 40 Community Sponsorship groups across the UK, through our parent charity, Citizens UK. We are currently the only non-religious Principal Lead Sponsor who can support groups in any region of the UK. We aim to streamline the Community Sponsorship for you, so you can spend less time on paperwork, and more time welcoming families.
As a first step, watch our inspiring Stories of Welcome, to understand more about Community Sponsorship; then contact our team, who can answer your questions and guide you through the process: email@example.com.
The next step is to gather a group together to discuss the idea.
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. We recommend about 8-12 people is a good number for your core team.
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 or university society.
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 (we have some pre-existing templates you can use)
- receive consent to apply from your Local Authority
- identify local services and plan how you will support the family to resettle
- submit an application to the Home Office (we can help you to write this)
- raise £9,000
- find and furnish an affordable home, to rent for a minimum of 2 years.
You'll then be providing at least 12 months of active support for the refugee family when they arrive. This will include:
- Welcoming the family at the airport and bringing them to their new home
- Navigating the local community and customs
- Registering with local services, such as schools, GPs, and Universal Credit
- Supporting to develop budgets
- Provide at least 8 hours per week of English language learning (this can be through existing college courses)
- Support to find employment
- Social support and connections
Before welcoming the family, 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.
The family will be entitled to claim housing allowance, so you do not need to pay for their rent. But, given the shortage and high cost of housing in many parts of Britain, finding an affordable 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. We have found housing in the most expensive parts of the country, including Tottenham Court Road, and even a palace!
You can calculate the cost of Local Housing Allowance in your area here
Can I provide my house for refugees?
That would be wonderful! One of the greatest challenges for Community Sponsorship groups is to find a property. By renting your property, you would be responsible for changing the lives of a refugee family - without a house, they will not be able to resettle here in the UK.
You cannot offer a room in your own house - the house must be self-contained with it’s own private front door. The family will be receiving Local Housing allowance, so ideally the rent would be set at or below this rate (calculate LHA for your area here).
Find out whether your property would be eligible, what it involves, and the benefits of renting through the CS scheme here.
You can submit your property details to us here.
You can find a map of existing Community Sponsorship groups here.
The family will be entitled to claim Universal Credit, so you are not expected to pay for their day-to-day living costs such as food or rent.
However, your group will have to show that you have £9,000 in a bank account ringfenced solely for the purpose of sponsoring. This is to pay for additional expenses, such as interpreters, DBS checks, furnishings, and so forth.
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.
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 very 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.
This Local Authority toolkit sets out their role and responsibilities.
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 (such as DBS and reference checks)
- 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. If Sponsor Refugees are your Lead Sponsor, we will guide you through this process.
The Home Office will also run background security checks on your Lead Sponsor.
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 throughout the 12-month sponsorship period
- 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.
There is plenty of support available as you develop your plans. Our Community Sponsorship portal provides a step-by-step guide, including checklists to make sure you have everything in place. And if we are your Lead Sponsor, we can work with you to develop these plans.
This is certainly one of the most important things you will need to help the 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.
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.
As a very general rule of thumb, you are likely to find you have to devote about 6-12 months to preparing for and being a sponsoring group (though this is getting faster all the time, as we get more experienced). There is a few months’ work to be done to form your group, draw up your plans and make an application. The greatest variables for time at this stage are:
- Building a strong team
- Getting consent from your Local Authority
- Finding a suitable property.
- Raising £9,000.
Once you have submitted your application, it currently takes about 4 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.
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 family 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 is a way to directly increase the number of refugees who can safely resettle 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
Sponsor Refugees can support your Community Sponsorship group in a number of ways:
- We can act as Lead Sponsor for your group - assuming a lot of the risk, hassle and paperwork for your group. As Lead Sponsor, we can provide bespoke support and training.
- Our Online Portal is a step-by-step guide to Community sponsorship, with lots of templates, advice and resources
- We run a fortnightly Lunch & Learn zoom session, bringing together the groups to learn and discuss various topics, such as benefits, ESOL, transition planning, etc.
- We can match you with a Mentor - someone who has already welcomed a family through the scheme, who can support you on your way
- Our partners, Reset, are a training & learning hub for Community Sponsorship. They can help in a number of ways:
- Their training website has lots of advice and resources
- They run various trainings and events - see a timetable here
- You can contact them directly for specific enquiries
- They run an application checking service (though if Sponsor Refugees are your Lead Sponsor, we will do this for you)
- If you are based in South West England, Charis can provide you with lots of support.
- There is also support from CSAN & Caritas if you are connected to a Catholic organisation, and dedicated people at the Salvation Army. Get in touch and we can connect you to the right people at these organisations.
- Regional Strategic Migration Partnerships are set up to coordinate support for refugees and migrants in their region. They may be able to provide you with support, especially with connecting with Local authorities, or share advice about local services. You can find a list of SMPs here.
Reset are commissioned by the Home Office to provide training and monitoring for Community Sponsorship in the UK.
Sponsor Refugees work very closely with Reset, to ensure that we providing joined up, well coordinated support, and avoid duplication. Our relationship is like that of friendly colleagues, who just happen to work at different organisations.
From a sponsors point of view, there are a number of similarities - we are both able to answer your specific enquiries about the process; both organisations provide training and workshops and networking opportunities for groups. We both aim to grow and improve Community Sponsorship in the UK.
One of the key differences is that Sponsor Refugees can act as your Lead Sponsor, and provide intensive, hands-on support this involves. Find out what this means here.
If you’re not sure who to contact about a particular enquiry, then you can copy us both into your email - whoever is best placed to answer will respond. Please don’t email us separately with the same enquiry, or we will duplicate our efforts in helping you.
See here for an overview of the Community Sponsorship ecosystem, and how all the organisations work together.