The home visit – what to expect

All potential hosts with Refugees at Home will have a home visit before we accept them to take in a guest. It’s vital, because we are expecting strangers to live together and so need to know that hosts are suitable – and prepared.

We know that some hosts may feel nervous about what to expect. So we asked Nick Watts, one of our most regular home visitors, to share his experience and advice.

Why we carry out home visits

Home visits serve a number of purposes. They are first and foremost a safeguarding measure, ensuing that vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers are not exploited, that the accommodation is suitable, and that a guest will feel comfortable in their temporary new home.

But for our hosts they are an important chance to think about how hosting might work for them, and, above all, to ask questions and find out more. Nick says: “A home visitor is that person who can talk you through thinking about hosting. Part of my responsibility is to help people reflect on that big thing – taking someone into your house. It’s much more than checking the space. It’s also about putting the host at ease, answering questions, being helpful.”

Most home visits take one to two hours. Where possible, they are carried out in person, although on some occasions (especially since covid), visits may be done remotely via facetime or zoom.

Before the visit

Taking someone into your personal space is a huge thing, so I always create as relaxed an environment as possible.

Nick recognises that some hosts may feel anxious before the visit. “Taking someone into your personal space is a huge thing, so I always create as relaxed an environment as possible. We’re really not scary people! Generally I will call hosts to introduce myself before I visit, and by the end of the call they are looking forward to me coming over for a cup of tea and a chat.”

It is important that the home visitor meets everyone in the household. Nick explains: “I normally tend to visit in the evenings so I’m there when everyone is there. I had one situation when the wife was up to it but it was clear her partner wasn’t and was just going through the motions. But this is both your homes and you both have to be cool with this.”

Home visitors will be provided with a checklist and guidelines on how to conduct the visit, but for Nick: “I like to go into visits with a really open mind. I don’t go in to tick boxes, just with an open and curious mind and to ask and answer questions.”

The physical space

During the home visit, Nick will ask to be shown around a host’s house and find out where guests will sleep and the spaces available to them. “There is a certain standard that needs to be met in terms of the physical space – I will look at composition of bedrooms, where people sleep; where their space would be; is it clean and safe, self-contained and private; how bathroom arrangements work.”

But, he explains: “That normally makes up about 10 minutes. It’s almost the quickest part of the visit.” Instead, Nick prefers to focus on the hosts and sees the visit as a chance for them to find out about hosting, talk through and reflect on their motivations, and to ask as many questions as possible.

Helping hosts prepare

 I provide the space for a host to think through what it’s actually going to be like having someone in your home who is a complete stranger to you.

Nick believes that “It’s about helping hosts reflect on what they are doing and giving them an opportunity to formulate how that might work in their head. Things like, what if your guest doesn’t speak English or doesn’t want to spend time with you, how would you feel about that?”

Every home visit is different, and no two homes are the same. “A question I am often asked by hosts is what their rules ‘should’ be. It’s such a difficult one to answer because everyone is so different.

“Things that come up a lot are what to expect from someone who is seeking asylum. These may be people who can have highly traumatic backgrounds, and hosts want to know what to expect in terms of risk, support needs, those sorts of things. Then there are questions about practical matters – things like, should I give my guest a key.”

Nick finds that some hosts struggle to know where their limits stand, and where their responsibilities end. “It’s important to discuss the boundaries of hosting. Hosts are not responsible for their guests’ immigration or legal status and shouldn’t get involved in the case work side of things – generally a chat fixes that. You can tell when a home visit has been done well because the placement works differently – they run in a boundaried way that is really good.”

Sometimes Nick has to manage a host’s expectations around a placement. He says: “Some people can find the reality of hosting a shock. They may have preconceptions that it’ll all be sunny, sharing amazing food and comparing cultures. But the reality may be an awkward first encounter with a traumatised guest who has simply been given their address and turned up in the middle of the night. The home visit is such an important opportunity to gear up to that, which is why hosts’ expectations and preferences should be explored properly.”

Right host, right guest

One important outcome of a visit is that it gives hosts a chance to think about the kinds of guests they might best be able to help. Nick says: “For a placement to be successful they have to be well matched. The only way that’s going to happen is if the assessment of a home visit is deeper than ‘show me there’s no holes in the ceiling’.

“Just because a host is a good host it doesn’t mean they will be suitable to host everybody. For example, bathroom arrangements may be an issue. You may have a young, devout Afghan Muslim women who is looking for hosting; putting her in a house with a man and a woman might not be a problem, but sharing a bathroom with a man might be. It comes down to cultural competence and thinking about who is suitable to be hosted.

“I spend a lot of time with care leavers and people with higher needs who need a very particular kind of host – one with experience and boundaries. There’s a massive cultural thing to think about.

“Some hosts do have preferences. If a woman lives on her own she’ll be more leaning towards having a female guest and that’s very valid.” But Refugees at Home would never put a single female guest on her own with a male host.

After the visit

Home visiting doesn’t end after the visit. “It’s a relationship, not an isolated task.”

Often hosts contact Nick with questions during a placement, generally via email. Often these relate to guests’ move-on arrangements, or if a host feels concern about a guest. “You are looped into the placement and follow up with the people you have assessed.

“It’s also important to think about what, if any, relationship hosts might maintain with guests. That’s very specific to the placement and the person. Helping hosts to think around how it works for them and how they keep those boundaries. It’s hard to keep those when you’ve got someone in your house.

“Having someone you can phone or have a cup of tea and a whinge is really important.”

Some advice for hosts

Describing his role with Refugees at Home Nick says: “My job is to go in, ask questions and be nosey, while making people feel at ease. What I tell most hosts is to go in with an open mind and not set too many ideas and expectations from the start.

“The number one thing I like to see ifs the openness of hosts. The majority of hosts come forward out of a really good place and overwhelmingly, in all my years of home visiting, I have met exceptionally good people.“