The programme to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees in the UK was successfully expanded at speed in order to reach an interim target to resettle 1,000 people by Christmas 2015, according to the National Audit Office, but the programme team will need to resettle more people each quarter than they have done so far in order to meet the overall target to resettle 20,000 people by May 2020.

The programme team has secured enough indicative pledges from local authorities to meet the target, but it is essential that these pledges materialise into firm offers of support. The programme is only open to Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

The NAO found that in achieving the target to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015 there was good partnership working across central and local government, strong working relationships with international partners and the goodwill and determination of all organisations involved. While local authorities have worked hard to provide resettlement places, they have not however always understood central government’s expectations of them after the first year of the programme.

Today’s report found that there is no estimate of the total cost of the programme to the UK. Costs fall to different central government departments and participating local authorities. Most of the costs of each refugee’s first year in the UK are covered by the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. This changes in the second year, after which costs for health and education fall to the relevant department, as they do for all citizens. Based on departments’ assumptions about the characteristics of those entering the programme, the services or level of support they will require and unit costs, the NAO estimates the programme could cost the UK up to £1,112 million to the end of 2019-20 and up to £1,734 million over its lifetime.

As the programme develops, the programme team and its partners need to ensure the goodwill of all involved is turned into actions to mitigate the risks to meeting the 20,000 target. According to the NAO, the future of the programme could be put at risk by local authorities’ lack of suitable accommodation and school places. The programme will need an estimated 4,930 houses or flats and an estimated 10,664 childcare and school places over its lifetime. Local authorities told the NAO that this was the main barrier to their participation in the programme in future. The programme team plans to gather formal feedback from local authorities, but has yet to do so. This means it does not know how well the programme is operating at a local level.

Refugees told the NAO that their experience of the programme has been largely positive, but uncertainty about their status in the UK has caused some anxiety. Information provided to them by the programme team, local authorities and their partners about where they were being resettled can be patchy and many are unsure of their rights in the UK and what they are eligible for. While some elements of the programme’s redesign are not yet operational, overall the programme team has made progress in redesigning the programme to improve refugees’ experiences.

“The programme team achieved a great deal in a short amount of time, resettling much larger numbers of refugees than previous programmes, due in large part to the dedication and goodwill of those involved.The characteristics of the refugees arriving in the UK will become clearer over time. With this new information, the programme team must adapt budgets so that no organisation taking part in the programme struggles to participate effectively due to cost pressures.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Ofice

Read the full report

The Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme

Notes for editors

20,000 Government's target of the number of Syrian refugees to resettle in the UK by May 2020 2,659 Number of refugees resettled in the UK through the programme to the end of June 2016: 13% of the 20,000 target. £1,112 million Our estimate of the total cost of the programme to the UK government to the end of 2019-20 September 2015 Month the then Prime Minister made a commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees through the programme by 2020 248 Average number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK each month between September 2015 and the end of March 2016 348 A average number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK each month since the programme's relaunch in April 2016 55% Percentage of people resettled in the UK through the programme who are survivors of torture and/or violence up to the end of June 2016 £421 million Total allocated from the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget to fund all refugees' costs for their first year in the UK, up to 2021 (up from the initial budget of £404 million announced in the 2015 spending review) £126 million Total amount the Home Office will expects to give to local authorities up to 2020 as a contribution to their costs for refugees' second to fifth years in the UK (down from the initial budget of £129 million announced in the 2015 spending review) 1. In January 2014, the UK government announced that it would establish a Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme to allow selected refugees to resettle in the UK. The Home Office was responsible for the initial programme. It prioritised people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk. The programme was small in scale, resettling 239 refugees up to the end of September 2015. 2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website. 3. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.21 billion in 2015.  

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