Mum fears she can’t host Ukrainian family anymore after realities of house share and rising bills

When the Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched in response to the Russian-Ukraine war, Lisa Raynes felt it was only right that her family opened up their house to a refugee family. But four months on after experiencing the reality of two families living under one roof combined with a lack of security for their guests’ future, Lisa says they didn’t realise quite what they were letting themselves in for in the long run.

Amid worries over the rising cost of energy bills, awkward cooking arrangements that have caused her to put a stop to the expensive weekly food shop, and with her own children having to make sacrifices, Lisa has decided she can no longer accommodate the family once their six-month agreement comes to an end – but is struggling to find a compassionate landlord that will take them on from then.

The mum-of-three, who is also a mum to two stepchildren, is glad to have been able to provide the Zonzova family with a good start to life in the UK, but she argues it’s time for the local authorities and government to step up with their support and to not rely on more host families coming forward.

But following last week’s announcement from the Bank of England of interest rates rising to 2.25 per cent – its highest level in 14 years – she is now even more concerned that landlords will be choosing to sell up over rising costs, reducing rental stock in a fiercely competitive market even further.

Lisa, 50, lives in a five-bedroom 1.5-bathroom 1930s semi-detached property with her husband, 51, and her three children – daughter Charlie, 17, and her two sons Alex, 20, and Alfie, 12, along with their cat Jack and two dogs Tilly and Walnut, in the relatively affluent suburb of Gatley in Stockport, Greater Manchester.

They welcomed the Zonzova family – Angelika Zonzova, 50, and Valerii Zonzov, 47 – in May after they fled the war-torn country, before their sons – Samuil Zonzov, 15, and Dorian Zonzov, 17, were able to join them the following month, along with their Siamese cat Matilda, who Lisa suspects is pregnant.

The guests are now looking for a two-bedroom property to rent in Gatley or Blackburn, but are having no luck.

“I’m Jewish and fourth generation Russian,” Lisa begins, explaining to The Mirror why her household wanted to sign up to the scheme – which sees sponsors paid an allowance of £350 per month by the government.

“It would have been my great great grandparents that moved here to settle, and they would have been accommodated so I felt it was important for us to help where we could.

“We don’t regret what we’ve done and we’re pleased we’re in a fortunate position to be able to offer.”

She adds: “We didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for. We just want to get them set up on their own two feet.”

Lisa and her husband fitted an extra shower room and toilet for their arrival, which she says has been “absolutely crucial.”

She also helped the married couple get jobs – with Valerii working as a welder at a nearby metal works and Angelika as a kitchen porter at a French bistro in the town centre.

They’ve since picked up new roles as a carpenter and a Manchester hotel housekeeper respectively, but Lisa says the mum is struggling to get hours on a zero-hours contract.

While the youngest son has been thrown into the deep end with GCSEs at Kingsway secondary school, Dorian has to obtain an English qualification and GCSEs before securing a place at college.

The Zonzovas have offered to contribute themselves towards bills and rent, but Lisa has refused so that they can build up savings for a deposit to help them move into rented accommodation.

When it comes to family mealtime, both parties found that they were overcompensating for each other, which has resulted in Lisa having to cut back her weekly shop which was costing “an absolute fortune”.

They then decided to split cooking responsibilities between them across the week, to give both families the opportunity to cook, but it didn’t work out.

“We were cooking for them and then they wanted to cook for us, so they’d go out shopping and we were both kind of catering,” Lisa says.

“But there was so much food waste and things couldn’t fit in the fridge so then we suggested we rotate the cooking – they cook for three days, we cook for three days, and one night off.

“But everyone has different diets, people like certain things, my kids are vegan, I’m on a health kick, and I don’t think they liked our dinners.

“Mum wasn’t coming down for dinner and they tend to eat at different times – they will have a full meal at breakfast at 7am with meat whereas our main meal is in the evening.”

Lisa recalls one night when she agreed to cook and bought fresh salmon for seven people, only to come home to find Angelika in the kitchen cooking chicken.

“So at that point, it was like, ‘this isn’t working’… we do have issues with communication,” Lisa continues.

“It is a shame as we were sitting down together to eat but they suggested we stopped sharing the cooking.

“We both cook less now – neither of us wants to be in each other’s spaces.”

And as energy bills are set to rise astronomically this winter, Lisa, who owns her own architecture business Pride Road – a franchise offering architectural services to residential homeowners across the country such as extensions – has started to research into the economic benefit of installing renewable energy sources such as solar panels.

“I do worry because we’ve got double the pressure on the hot water, with showers, and doing two sets of cooking,” she adds.

“I’ve not looked at the energy consumption but I assume it’s gone up.”

Meanwhile, Lisa says her children have had to make sacrifices, which she feels guilty about.

She had put her son Alex’s belongings into bin bags to make space in his room whilst he was away at university, but when he returned this summer, he had to kip in the office.

He has recently undergone top surgery – a procedure for transgender men and nonbinary people to remove breast or chest tissue – and therefore needs a comfortable bed to aid his recovery, which has meant her other children now share a room.

“I put his stuff into big bags and he agreed to it, because he is kind and wants to help. But now I’m having to move the kids around,” she says.

“Usually there is a bed for everyone but this was our deed and I don’t want to put other people out.

“We’ve decided to do this so we need to manage it.”

On her current living arrangements, Lisa describes the situation as “like being flatmates.”

“We know it’s temporary and we’re doing it for the right reason, but it would be nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel and have them settled in Stockport.”

Lisa has been asking around for landlords who can take on the family from November, but has had no response.

Estate agents have told her that many landlords won’t be interested.

“They’ve said landlords will go for the safest tenants and anecdotally, they will want them to sign for so many months and have a guarantor – which I’m not in a position to be able to be,” she adds.

Stockport Homes – which manages over 12,000 properties on behalf of Stockport Council and private landlords – met with Ukrainians and their sponsors last month for a meeting on how they plan to move forward, and Lisa claims councillors said there was no assurance that the refugees could remain in Stockport, but are calling for new sponsors.

“We wouldn’t see them out on the street, but it’s not just the money, we’ve had to make compromises,” Lisa continues, who says they were asked by the council if they wanted to host the family for another six months.

“When they moved in with us, I helped them get jobs and places at school and college, so now they are rooted in our local area and yet are struggling to find somewhere to live.

“I now feel guilty that I’ve put them in this position.

“I really need a compassionate landlord in the local area that can offer a two-bed property. They will have a deposit and they will get housing benefits.

“We’ve started a life for them, we’ve done our bit, and we want Stockport to match it.

“It would be decent for the country to deliver what it promised and Stockport Council to support them and us.

“It’s galling as I had so many people offering to help at the outset with food and bits of clothing. But now we need a compassionate landlord I’ve got nothing

“If a nice landlord stepped up and said they can have an apartment for market value – bingo.”

She adds: “I’m now worried that in an already fiercely competitive market, the new interest rates will make it worse, with landlords selling their properties instead”.

A government spokesperson said: “The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians who have arrived in the UK following Putin’s invasion are living in private accommodation and settling in well.

“We understand the pressures facing families and public services – sponsors will continue to receive £350 monthly ‘thank you’ payments for up to 12 months and we are providing councils with £10,500 funding per person as well as access to a rematching service for the rare cases where this is required.”

A joint statement from Stockport Council and Stockport Homes Group said: “We thank all of those Stockport residents who have shown a huge amount of kindness in inviting people into their homes.

“Any family struggling with the rising cost of living and finding this to be a barrier to hosting Ukrainian guests can contact the council directly by emailing [email protected]

“While the cost of local housing is out of our control, the council is supporting Ukrainian guests whose hosting arrangements are coming to an end to find affordable and sustainable housing solutions.

“We know that unfortunately, this may mean relocating to a different part of the borough, but we will work with families to try and support these moves.

“We are offering support for all hosts and families such as running housing options information sessions and we are also meeting with guest households individually to develop resettlement plans.

“We are also encouraging local householders to consider hosting someone who has already arrived in Stockport through the scheme.”

On the other hand, Reset Communities and Refugees, a charity leading community welcome of refugees in the UK, is urgently appealing for more people to host refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Six months on from the launch of the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme, more than 300 Ukrainian refugees are continuing to sign up with Reset’s matching service every week.

But, while more than 200,000 people registered their interest in hosting Ukrainian refugees on the government’s website in the early weeks, the number of hosts available to match with refugees has fallen.

Kate Brown, chief executive of Reset, said: “Homes for Ukraine has been an opportunity for individuals and households to welcome people seeking safety on a massive scale. Hosting someone in your home for six months is a huge commitment with plenty of challenges, so it’s not to be undertaken lightly.

“We’ve heard of the life-changing benefits both hosts and refugees experience in living together and learning about one another.

“But we urgently need more hosts. The war is showing no sign of ending and thousands of Ukrainians are living in precarious conditions, seeking sponsors to host them in the UK.

“We are especially keen for people to sponsor who have room to host larger family units and men as well as women and children. Contrary to popular belief, not all Ukrainian men need to stay and fight, as some are exempt from military service and equally in need of safety.

“We know people in the UK have many concerns of their own, not least the cost-of-living crisis. But there is lots of support and advice available from Reset, other organisations and existing sponsors. And the government is continuing to provide ‘thank you’ payments to help with the cost.”