Ukrainian refugees ‘bound unfairly by UK government red tape’

King Charles visits Ukraine refugee centre in Romania in 2022

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Ukrainian refugees living in Britain claim they are facing a deadly choice of either driving their cars back to war-torn Ukraine or spending thousands to make them legal in the UK. Hundreds of Ukrainians drove to the UK when the war started over a year ago. However, as the conflict continues, they and their cars have been left in automotive limbo.

One refugee caught up in the confusion is Tatiana Arkhipova, who was forced to return her car to Ukraine from the UK.

Ms Arkhipova claims she was initially told she could receive Temporary Admission relief on her vehicle for three years but was then told it was a “mistake” and she would have to apply for Transfer of Residence Relief (TOR).

She told “I arrived in the UK in July. I wrote a letter to HMRC and attached form C110. I received a positive reply, confirming Temporary Admission relief on my vehicle for three years, for the entire Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) terms.”

A BRP is used to confirm someone’s identity, right to study, and right to any public services or benefits they’re entitled to.

Ms Arkhipova added: “But later, I got another letter saying it was a mistake and I’m not entitled to this scheme and I need to apply for TOR. There were more letters, where I was asking about possibilities and exceptions, but did not succeed. I know this changed later and TOR was cancelled.

“But I still need to change my headlights, fog lights, what is expensive, I need to pass an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test, what is questionable and not guaranteed.[sic]”

She added: “In autumn it became clear that there is no clear algorithm for registering a car, no one knows how to return the car to Ukraine after changing the registration. People began to get very different answers from DVLA. My six months ended in January, but half-term in school was in December.

Instead of going through the rigmarole and cost of replacing the parts on her existing car, Ms Arkhipova returned to wartorn Ukraine to swap cars with her husband instead.

She said: “I decided not to get involved with the replacement of equipment on the car and returned the car to Ukraine in December. [sic]

“My husband and I switched cars and I returned to the UK in my husband’s car for another six months. In the summer it will be necessary to leave again if nothing changes in the registration procedures.”

The confusion and red tape have enraged campaigners who say Ukrainian refugees should not be treated differently from other temporary residents.

When contacted by a spokesman for the Department of Transport said the department “supports” Ukrainian refugees and had “made provisions for those bringing their vehicles with them”.

But one campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous, said Ukrainian refugees were being treated differently and that it had been suggested Ukrainians could modify their cars themselves.

They said: “We’re getting the same question time and again from stressed out and worried Ukrainian refugees and their hosts: why are they being treated differently to other temporary residents here for comparable timeframes in the UK, such as overseas students, who don’t have to go through a complicated vehicle import and registration process by law?

“But we’ve never had any acknowledgment of this or explanation to date. Surely exceptions can be made for exceptional circumstances such as a war – after all, during the first lockdown, MOTs were automatically extended by six months.”

They added: “Refugees don’t want to fall foul of the law in a country that’s welcomed them, but they’ve been subjected to a stream of contradictory rules being sent out by different Government departments over the last few months, which has left them very confused.

“According to a survey we conducted, many refugees were incurring modification costs of hundreds or thousands of pounds, well above the lowest quoted figure from DfT of ‘£55 to register a car’. It was suggested that refugees could even further reduce costs by attempting to fit car parts themselves.”

On what should happen next, the campaigner told the Express: “We’re simply asking for the Department of Transport to make things easier by aligning Ukrainian refugees with the rules already defined for other temporary residents in the UK, such as overseas students. We’ve proposed a standard MOT be applied for all cars, as a precaution, to pick up any road safety issues. Failing that, we’re asking the Government for help with the costs incurred, where these are significant.

“Refugees never foresaw they’d need to spend thousands of pounds to make their cars compliant when they fled for their lives. The policy isn’t practically workable and we’re not seeing a lot of empathy and understanding from the Department of Transport around just how complex and expensive this is for a refugee.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Transport said: “We support Ukrainian refugees and have made provisions for those bringing their vehicles with them, including allowing some temporary modifications to meet UK standards that are important to keep our roads safe.

“We are actively working to explore options for how we can further support the Ukrainian community in the UK.”

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