How to open your home to refugees

Last week, we looked at how to donate most effectively to charities involved with the Syrian refugee crisis. However, some people are helping more directly by offering accommodation to refugees. For example, Iceland’s refusal to take in more than 50 refugees prompted 12,000 Icelanders (from a population of 323,000) to open their homes to refugees.

Many of these will inevitably have second thoughts nearer the time, and if you are under any illusions about the sort of commitment – both practical and emotional – that this involves, stop and think again. But if you’re serious – and the number of articles on the topic in the Sunday supplements this week suggests that more than a few people have been asking – what’s the best way to go about it, and what are the implications for your finances?

There are two main ways to indicate your interest. The first is to contact your local council. Most local authorities find it easiest to house refugees in social housing or with private landlords. But with numbers set to rise, many are willing to consider offers from individuals, either now or in the near future. Also, all councils run schemes for foster parents, although these are aimed at all children, not just refugees. Foster parents are also rigorously vetted to prevent vulnerable children being placed with unsuitable people.

This process takes an average of eight months. If you want to help faster, several charities can help. Since refugees and asylum seekers are the responsibility of councils, charities focus on those denied refugee status, who feel unable to return to their country for fear of persecution. This doesn’t necessarily make them less deserving – the process is tough, and many refusals are overturned on appeal. But it does mean they need somewhere to stay. A list of charities by city is on the No Accommodation Network website.

If you do take a refugee in, notify your mortgage provider and your insurer – you may see a small rise in premiums. Single people must notify the council – it could cost you your single-person council tax discount. If you find yourself paying more tax or insurance, speak with a more senior manager to see if they’re willing to waive the extra – some firms have indicated that they may do so, but only if notified in advance.

As for rent, refugees are restricted as to the work they can do, while failed asylum seekers are almost completely barred from work and welfare. Even if in full-time jobs, they will understandably want to send money home to relatives who may be in dire straits. At most, you shouldn’t expect more than a nominal contribution to household expenses. It’s likely you’ll have to provide food and clothing as well as housing.