Ukrainian refugees seeking host families on social media received up to 300 posts each offering rooms as Britons vied to outbid each other over the size of their houses and gardens, number of bedrooms, local leisure facilities and quality of countryside.
One Ukrainian mother who had fled the Russian invasion to the Czech Republic had so many offers from different parts of the UK that the Facebook group had to place a notice saying: “Members are limited to commenting once every five minutes on this post.”
When she disclosed that her child was a keen gymnast, three separate prospective hosts – living in Yorkshire, south-east England and Berkshire – made the case for why their local sports facilities would be the best fit.
The surge came as the 147,000 Britons who have registered for the Homes for Ukraine scheme were allowed to lodge their applications, provided they had found and linked up with named Ukrainians. Sources said that it amounted to more than 400,000 rooms on offer across the UK.
As well as searching social media for Ukrainian refugees, Britons also bombarded charities. Room for Refugees, the UK’s longest-running refugee-hosting programme, said that it was getting 40 calls and up to 150 emails an hour from Britons wanting to offer accommodation to Ukrainian refugees.
Some prospective families abandoned their search in the face of the competition.
One couple with a vacant “small” two-bedroom home said: “The Government saying ‘you have to find your own family’ has generated a social media frenzy.
“You have people vying for families to come and stay. Everyone wants to do so much, it’s just a nightmare. It just opens it up for loads of the wrong people and people being choosy as to who they want to come. We just think it is a bit of a mess and we will wait for the furore to settle down.
“Can you imagine being on the other side of it? They don’t know where they are going. Where is Gloucester? What is the state of the place? Are there any Ukrainians in Gloucester? Can I get a job?”
Offers made to another family of refugees included “two double bedrooms and a large private bathroom” and “a room with a king-size bed” in a house “next to the beach”.
Winnie the Pooh’s birthplace used to win over refugees
Another social media user’s pitch to a refugee who said they were forced to leave Kyiv with their child included an image of a picturesque sunset in Cornwall.
They promised “a room with bunk beds and shared facilities. We have a trampoline and a skate ramp in the garden and bikes, scooters and skateboards to enjoy. We have two horses and three cats as well”.
Another user wrote: “We have a double room for a mother and sibling. Lovely area on the edge of Winnie the Pooh’s Ashdown Forest! We have two very well-behaved dogs!”
Charities warned that the Government risked leaving thousands of prospective host families frustrated by the process unless it quickly took charge of the matching process rather than leaving it to individuals.
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “With multiple Facebook sites now available, there is a risk of the process getting out of control and becoming a free-for-all. It’s vital the Government now steps in and has oversight of the matching process.”
Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing which runs Room for Refugees, said that the Government’s DIY matching scheme was “an inadequate replacement for a safe, screened, risk-assessed hosting process”.
She added: “They are gathering people’s data on who will help on an industrial scale when they should be bringing refugees over on an industrial scale. That register will go nowhere. You will have a trickle of people.”
Government ‘working on matching system’
Government sources said that they were working on a matching system to introduce “as soon as possible” ready for a “second phase” when charities, churches, community groups and businesses could act as middlemen.
Lord Harrington of Watford, the refugees minister, admitted that he was “not happy” with the speed at which visas for Ukrainians had been processed as families on Friday reported it was still taking up to four hours to complete the new streamlined applications to host Ukrainian families.
Both hosts and refugees have to provide details and proof of identity, residence and relationship, but officials said that once submitted, they aimed to process the applications for Ukrainians with passports within 48 hours. The first are expected to be approved by the end of Sunday.
Lord Harrington told Times Radio that the first refugees under the scheme would start arriving at British homes early next week.
He said that the Government had no idea how many Ukrainians would enter under Homes for Ukraine and accepted that more than 150,000 offers from the public may exceed demand.