THE Scottish Government’s “super sponsor scheme” for Ukrainian refugees is to remain closed to new applicants after being overwhelmed.

The scheme was paused in July because of a lack of housing for families fleeing Russia’s war, with SNP ministers forced to accommodate people in two cruise ships. 

Neil Gray, the minister with responsibility for Ukrainian refugees, today told MSPs that, after a review of the scheme, the three-month pause had been extended indefinitely.

“Having considered the current position, I have concluded we are unable to resume applications to the super sponsor scheme at this time,” he said.

He said seven criteria would be used to determine if the scheme could be reopened, including adequate accommodation supply, support for councils and other public service providers, and a “clear understanding” of future costs and who would pay for them. 

The seventh test was so unpredictable it suggests the scheme may never re-open: an “assessment of the current situation in Ukraine, including unexpected or unforeseen developments in the war leading to mass migration events”.

Mr Gray also announced more than £6million of funding has been allocated to Aberdeen City Council to enable the council to bring around 500 void properties back into use, making more longer-term accommodation available across the city for refugees.

There will also be a Scotland-wide drive to find new private hosts who could offer a displaced person a roof.

With many new arrivals now on benefits or in work, ministers will be asking some refugees for "a contribution" to help pay for temporary welcome accommodation.

The review of the scheme, led by the Scottish Government’s chief social policy adviser Professor Linda Bauld, recommended 16 changes to improve the reception of people who have already applied to it but have yet to arrive.

These include "improved clarity around what to expect", so that refugees have an "aaccurate" idea of the limited accommodation available in advance of arrival.

Of the 30,629 people who were granted visas under the scheme, around 13,000 have yet to decide whether to travel to Scotland, with around 100 people arriving each day.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the UK Government introduced a sponsorship scheme based on individuals becoming sponsors and matching themselves with refugees.

The Scottish Government decided to act as a ‘super sponsor’ in its own right to speed up the process, allowing people to travel without the need for private sponsorship. 

Scottish ministers had expected the situation to be similar to receiving refugees from Syria, when 3,000 people were accepted over five years.

However the super sponsor scheme attracted 35,501 applications, with 30,629 visas granted and 17,363 people arriving in Scotland to date, a fifth of all arrivals to the UK.

Mr Gray said: “As a nation, we continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We know that our Super Sponsor Scheme has provided an additional and immediate route to safety. 

“Our communities have welcomed thousands of people fleeing the war; Scottish families have opened their homes; and our local authorities and third sector partners are working round the clock to provide often traumatised people with the safety and support they need.

“The review has outlined support for people in the medium and longer term with interventions providing clear steps to empower those arriving with clear advice, support and improved access to longer-term housing options thereby reducing dependency on short-term accommodation. 

“The measures listed will also help us with the prioritisation of that limited temporary accommodation capacity for those already here and newly arriving who are most in need. Depending on the needs of guests, we will consider asking for a contribution to temporary welcome accommodation for those still using them.

“We will continue to work with local authorities to make more longer-term accommodation available across the country through our Longer Term Resettlement Fund. 

“We are also supporting our matching service with additional resource, because we know that matching takes considerable time and effort and we need to make sure that the home is the best fit for displaced people and the hosts. 

“We will soon launch a Scotland-specific campaign asking more households to consider offering a place in their home to displaced people from Ukraine.”

Tory MSP Donald Cameron said: “The Scottish Conservatives recognise the efforts that governments across the UK have taken to ensure as many Ukrainian refugees as possible are able to seek sanctuary from the horrors that continue to unfold in their homeland.

“However, despite the undoubted best intentions of the minister and officials, the Super Sponsor scheme remains mired in problems, exacerbated by the housing crisis which the SNP Government has made worse by their recent introduction of rent controls.

“The minister was unable to tell me when the Super Sponsor Scheme, which has been paused for four months now, might resume. Nor could he say what the average time between arrival in Scotland and placement in permanent accommodation was.

“I do not doubt the government’s good intentions for a moment, but whilst the numbers of Ukrainians arriving under the scheme has been significant, the reality for many is still very challenging.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said it appeared unlikely the super sponsor scheme would restart.

He said: "The tests the Scottish Government has set for re-opening the super sponsor scheme seem as if they have been designed to be as opaque and ambiguous as possible. 

“In private, officials tell me that they think it is unlikely the scheme will ever restart.

"That will be a real blow to the millions of Ukrainians displaced across Europe. 

“By effectively bringing the axe down on the super sponsor scheme, the government have bought themselves some breathing room. They must now use it to redouble their efforts to support those who have made it to Scotland.  

“The Scottish Government must urgently issue a call for more hosts, give councils the resources to check and match homes quicker and thirdly, make it easier for all refugees in Scotland - whether they are from Ukraine, Syria or Afghanistan - to move around by enrolling them in the free bus travel scheme for at least a year. That will make it easier for them take up offers of jobs and accommodation beyond metropolitan areas.”