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Public Accounts Committee

Oral evidence: Homes for Ukraine, HC 69

Thursday 23 November 2023

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 23 November 2023.

Watch the meeting

Members present: Dame Meg Hillier (Chair); Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown; Ashley Dalton; Mr Jonathan Djanogly; Ben Lake.

Questions 1-80


I: Sarah Healey, Permanent Secretary, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; Emma Payne, Director, Homes for Ukraine Scheme, SRO of the programme, DLUHC; Simon Ridley, Second Permanent Secretary, Home Office; and Abi Tierney, Director-General, Customer Services Group, Home Office.

Rebecca Sheeran, Executive Director, National Audit Office, Keith Lloyd, Director, NAO, and Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, were in attendance.

Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General

Investigation into the Homes for Ukraine scheme (HC 1863)


Examination of witnesses

Witnesses: Sarah Healey, Emma Payne, Simon Ridley and Abi Tierney.

Q1                Chair: Welcome to the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday 23 November 2023. Today we are looking at the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which was launched in March 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of that year. It enables UK citizens to act as sponsors for Ukrainians in their own homes and gives Ukrainians full access to public services.

We have in front of us two Departments—the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—because one was responsible for the visas and making sure that people were vetted coming in, and the other was responsible for vetting those who were receiving and managing the scheme here in the UK.

There have obviously been some concerns along the way—the scheme was set up at pace, although successfully at pace in many respects—including around safeguarding of adults and children, and what happened when a housing situation did not materialise or where relationships broke down. The future of the scheme is a bit clearer since yesterday’s autumn statement, because now we know that the payments will be extended an extra year to hosts, making it a three-year programme rather than a two-year programme, which we will touch on.

I am delighted to welcome from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Sarah Healey, the permanent secretary, and, as a first-time witness for this Committee but an expert witness for other Committees, the director for the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the senior responsible owner, Emma Payne. Welcome to you. From the Home Office, we have Simon Ridley, who is the second permanent secretary, and Abi Tierney, the director-general for the customer services group, who is soon to be leaving Whitehall to head up Welsh rugby. A big change—or maybe not: in a scrum, if the ball is the money? I hope this Committee gives you some preparation for dealing with that.

I want to start with Abi Tierney and Emma Payne, but I am happy if you want to deflect to someone else, if appropriate. We have looked at a number of schemes set up for refugees over the years—Syria and Afghanistan spring to mind. When you were setting up this scheme, what lessons did you bring from previous schemes to ensure that you could engage well with the timeliness of delivering, the engagement with local authorities and how you made sure that you had a feedback loop? Those are some of the lessons we have learnt from previous schemes. Shall I start with Abi? We start with visas first.

Abi Tierney: I remember the Saturday morning I got the call—I think it was at about 10 am—to set up a helpline for that afternoon. The pace at which it happened was incredibly fast, incredibly quick, which was different, potentially, from the Syria scheme, from that perspective.

The big piece was us, very early on, saying we knew that making sure that when people arrived, having immediate access to housing, benefits, education and so on would make a huge difference for people fleeing to safety. How were we going to do that? I think the biggest lesson learnt was to make sure that we took the time to ensure that when people arrived, housing, stability and the ability to integrate quickly were there. That was very different from Afghanistan, for example, where people needed to go into bridging accommodation for significant amounts of time. That is where the scheme became a real partnership between us, DLUHC, local authorities and sponsors to ensure that was in place.

Q2                Chair: Yes. We are all still living with the Afghanistan situation in our constituencies, with many of those displaced people.

Emma Payne: To add a few things to what has just been said, we knew that we would need strong working across Government between the Home Office, DLUHC and a number of other Departments, recognising the range of public services that Ukrainians would need access to, so we put in place some strong governance around that.

We also recognised that we would need strong partnership working between central and local government, the voluntary and community sector, and communities much more broadly, so again we brought together all the different partners and we put in place governance and the feedback mechanisms to understand how things were feeling on the ground, feeding that into the ongoing development.

Q3                Chair: Those were the lessons learnt, but you also learned lessons from doing this, so which bits of that feedback loop, working with local organisations, do you think you could have done better or have now learnt you are doing better?

Emma Payne: We really focused on the partnership working—central and local government, and the voluntary and community sector—and, if anything, we have strengthened that as time has gone on. We still have strong forums in place, where we bring all the partners together on a regular basis so that we understand how things are going and feed that back into our work.

Q4                Chair: When you talk about those forums, are you talking about national bodies for local government? How are you hooking in local government and those local agencies?

Emma Payne: In a combination of different ways. We have done different things as the scheme has gone on, recognising the different phases of the scheme. We have worked closely with the Local Government Association, but we also work closely with a number of local authorities directly at a number of different levels.

Through the scheme, we have had engagement groups in place—we have had representatives of local authorities on those groups, feeding in their views directly—as well as bringing in the local government voice together through the Local Government Association. We have also worked closely with the strategic migration partnerships across the country to get their input on the ground.

Q5                Chair: Will you explain the strategic migration partnerships?

Emma Payne: Yes, and my Home Office colleague might want to add to this, because they work closely with them. Those partnerships are bodies across the country with a regional focus, working with local authorities to focus on a range of migration issues. They work closely with the local authorities, but they also work on the ground with—

Q6                Chair: Are they civil servants?

Emma Payne: No.

Q7                Chair: Who is in the partnerships?

Emma Payne: They are organisations that work with local authorities, effectively, and they have a regional element to them. There are different strategic migration partnerships for the different regions of the country.

Abi Tierney: They are housed or sponsored by a particular local authority in a particular area. They will be local authority officials, primarily, but they are there to act very much as an integration piece and, as Emma described, as people on the ground who can help pick up whether there are integration challenges, education challenges or capacity issues. They are absolutely critical in all our schemes when we are working closely with local authorities.

I would like to add a couple of other things that we have learned. We learned over time that the super sponsor schemes, while they were hugely generous and really aided people in terms of speed, also had major capacity issues and made safeguarding checks harder for sponsors in those schemes. One of the most challenging—Emma and I were recalling it this morning—was the unaccompanied minors policy. Not having that set up right upfront was a real issue. That would be something to include in any lessons learned: to work really fast with unaccompanied minors is really important.

Q8                Chair: Before you go further—because that is a really important point—do you think you could have better predicted that? Was there a gap in thinking or planning at that early stage on unaccompanied minors?

Abi Tierney: Yes. It came down to pace and wanting to do things as quickly as possible. Remember that, at the start, it was very much families who were coming over. A large majority were also women coming over with children. It then became apparent that some women were wanting to stay behind with their husbands and wanting to be able to send children. We had not planned for that; that is definitely a lesson learned.

Q9                Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: This was a complicated scheme that you implemented pretty quickly and pretty well, I think. Can you tell us about our resources for processing visas? I am turning to figure 9 in particular, which gives us annual turnaround times. They were pretty good in the early days but they seem to have got longer—understandably, I suppose, because you have probably reduced resources. The turnaround time in processing a visa is 63 days now, or as at July. Can you tell us about the balance between resources and the length of time it has taken to process these visas?

Abi Tierney: One of the things in the NAO Report—I know it references this—is the difference when it comes to process. In all our other visa routes, we use two measures: the percentage of visas processed within the SLA, based on straightforward cases—they are cases that do not need to be deferred or have any further checks done. Throughout the period of the scheme, up to now, 90% of all straightforward cases have been processed in 15 days.

The bit in the Report that shows that figure dip refers to when we were developing a policy, when we were starting to see a large number of Ukrainians in this country looking to sponsor Ukrainians coming over—rather than it being a UK sponsor, it was a Ukrainian sponsor—and we deferred those applications while we were working on the policy. We were particularly worried that they would not necessarily have the accommodation or the stability to be able to maintain that sponsorship. As a result, during that period there was a larger proportion of deferred cases, but they were still counted in the overall SLA.

Q10            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: They were largely women and children who were coming over, most or some of them from a war zone, traumatised, and with no paperwork. Presumably, you had to create all the paperwork from scratch, including all the biometrics. Tell us how you went about that.

Abi Tierney: There were three stages to it. It was another lesson learned. The way we do visas is that, at the start, people need to go and give their biometrics. Very quickly, the visa application centre in Lviv had to shut, for obvious reasons, so people were not able to go there, and it was not necessarily safe for them to be travelling.

We created a brand new visa application centre just over the border, in Warsaw, where we knew that large numbers of people were moving naturally. That was where our analysis showed people were going to. We set up a brand new visa application centre very quickly to take the biometrics. We then realised that we were adding unnecessary steps and delay, whereas the whole purpose was to get people over as quickly and as safely as possible, so within days, we set up the AUK1 route and then the AUK2 route.

On the AUK1 route, all can be done electronically without paperwork. You defer giving your biometrics until you come into the UK, and then we use our much more significant capacity in the UK. People had six months in which to do that. On the AUK2 route, we took biometrics remotely. Each time, when we weren’t quite getting the speed that we needed, we were rethinking.

The AUK2 route was a brand new route that had not been established, at that point. That was incredible work from our colleagues in the IT department and our visa colleagues who designed that and got it up and running and working; that was impressive to watch.

Those were the three stages. Over the course of the scheme, we are seeing that some people continue to use the AUK1 and some people use the AUK2. By giving people those options, depending on where they were and what worked best for them, we were able to speed up the processing times.

I am sorry—that was a bit technical.

Q11            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: No, that was very helpful indeed.

Throughout this process, particularly at the height of it—June, July and August of 2022—you set up a hub downstairs in Portcullis House where concerned hosts were able to contact MPs, and MPs were then able to go to the hub. That was helpful, but it took at least an hour a time, which was quite a drain on our staff.

In hindsight, do you think that you could have put a bit more resource into that, so that those cases could have been processed a bit quicker? Very often, the member of staff came away and said, “It’s been sorted; they will get a visa within the next few days,” which is fantastic, but it is just about that strain on members of staff.

Abi Tierney: I agree. We did that for a number of issues recently, and it has been largely welcomed. The other thing was that, last August, we still had a significant WIP within our MPs’ correspondence. We have now cleared that and are within SLAs.

Chair: WIP as in “work in progress”?

Abi Tierney: Yes, work in progress—sorry.

Chair: I thought you were saying something else about what you wanted to do to MPs.

Abi Tierney: That meant that, when MPs and their offices were using the traditional route—either phone or email—we were not able to get to them quickly enough, because we had a backlog of MPs’ correspondence that had built up with Afghanistan and with the passport backlog. That has now been cleared, so we are responding to all MPs’ correspondence within 20 days, where we can, and when it is not a complex case. I think that makes a big difference. What was set up below in Portcullis House almost needed to done, because our back-office processes were not where they needed to be.

Q12            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Can we clarify what the announcement yesterday actually said about visas? Does it mean that they will all have to apply for an automatic one-year renewal? What does it actually mean?

Sarah Healey: The announcement yesterday was on thank you payments rather than visas.

Q13            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Right. Let me come back to the original question on visas, then. The visas are for three years, and the early ones will run out in March of next year: then what?

Abi Tierney: It is March ’25.

Simon Ridley: March ’25. The vast majority of people arrived in summer 2022 on three-year visas. We are working with the permanent secretary and Ministers on the options for the scheme beyond that time period; that is under close review, and we are working closely with DLUHC and others. Ministers will decide on that in the coming period.

We will make sure that any decisions we make are made well in advance of when people’s visas will end, so that they have enough notice, as we continue, also, to develop the scheme. Yesterday was about thank you payments and the support of the scheme for the third year of the visas that are in place.

Q14            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Thank you for that clarification.

I have hosted several meetings of hosts of Ukrainian refugees, and it is quite clear that every case is different. It depends where they come from; some might have a home to go back to now, while others have had theirs completely destroyed, so it is unlikely that they will be able to go back even within that timescale. When do you think you will make a decision so that you can provide some reassurance to those people who will simply not be able to go back?

Simon Ridley: I totally appreciate all of that. Indeed, in the last 18 months we have seen some people already returning, and we are still seeing a relatively small number of people—400-ish a week—arriving. To answer your question, I cannot put a precise timetable on it; we are looking at it very actively, and Ministers will make a decision in the coming time, but I cannot give you a date, I’m afraid.

Q15            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Presumably the other problem is that, if you extend their visa beyond five years, they can then apply for a right to remain here. Is that one of the considerations?

Simon Ridley: Yes. There is obviously a lot of uncertainty about the situation in Ukraine, and in different parts of Ukraine—as you said, individuals’ circumstances are different. We want to get the balance between recognising that and having simplicity in any decisions that are made. There are myriad options, both for extension of the current scheme and development beyond it, but that is the work we are doing at the moment.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I think the only thing, before I go on and leave the visas, is—

Q16            Chair: Before we do leave the visas, I will go back to Ms Tierney on this, because obviously you had to make these judgments at the beginning that it was three years. That was a very rapid policy decision. At what point did you realise that there might be an issue with the three years that you had to think about moving forward because people cannot get tenancies? There is also the citizenship issue, which is presumably in negotiation between the British Government at a policy level and the Ukrainian Government, because otherwise they could potentially lose a lot of citizens. When did you start being aware of that?

Abi Tierney: Really early on. We were in very close contact with the Ukrainian Government because they made it very clear right up front, as you say, that they wanted a scheme that would encourage and enable people to come back when the time was ready. They therefore did not want us to do anything that would make that harder or potentially provide a different form of incentive. We were talking to them from day one about what kind of scheme they would support and find the most helpful for their citizens.

It was always going to be a trade-off between speed, what the Ukrainian Government wanted and would support and what we could offer. Overall, I think we got that judgment right. As Simon said, we are working really hard at the moment to try to ensure that we can give some certainty and address some of those other issues.

Q17            Chair: It is very complicated, when we look at this legally, to set up an extension to the visa regime that would deny someone citizenship. You would have to have a whole carve-out and you would have to define what a Ukrainian was; they might not be a Ukrainian citizen, because other people fled the war zone too. Is that on the radar? I will start with you, Ms Tierney, but maybe Mr Ridley would like to add something.

Abi Tierney: That is why it is policy colleagues. We are involved operationally, because depending on if it is—

Q18            Chair: But you are working with the policy colleagues.

Abi Tierney: Absolutely, but those are all things that we are exploring, looking at and trying to ensure that we get the balance right on. It is not straightforward.

Q19            Chair: Mr Ridley, is there even a prospect of legislation on this? That would also take time, but I do not know how you would do it otherwise; we could not work out a route through.

Simon Ridley: There are a number of options we probably can do without legislation, but that is precisely the work we are doing at the moment. We are very cognisant of the fact that the Ukrainian Government want their citizens to return to help rebuild the country when the time comes and as it comes in different parts of the country. We are precisely trying to work out the judgment of the right sort of policy and extension and how we can execute that, both in terms of the immigration rules and the legislation we have and operationally making it as simple as possible for the people who are already here. We are doing that thinking at the moment.

Q20            Chair: To do that, we have the challenges then of people with visas coming to an end. That is a challenge for renting properties and all sorts of other aspects of how you can access services. The visa currently gives you pretty much access to everything, but if you have not got it running for long enough, you cannot even get a tenancy. That is one thing that occurred to us. What are the other practical issues?

Emma Payne: We are working very closely with the Home Office on all this. As I said before, we are ensuring that we have the feedback loops coming through so that we can understand if there are any issues and what we can provide by way of guidance, for example, on those.

One of the questions is around accommodation. As Sarah said, yesterday we announced the extension of thank you payments for that third year of sponsorship so that people can remain in sponsorship through that three-year period. We also have a lot of work underway to support Ukrainians into work, including increasing English language skills and access to work. Those are some of the areas on which we are particularly focused.

Q21            Chair: Is there anything you want to add, Ms Healey?

Sarah Healey: Not especially. As Emma set out, one of the things we can do through our engagement with local authorities, and therefore immediate feedback on people’s experiences on the ground, is flag if any of the issues with employment, housing and so on are becoming more acute.

Q22            Mr Djanogly: I should declare an interest as a participant—as a former host. In terms of the sponsors themselves, my local district council contacted me on this and said they are finding that the number of sponsors is stagnating. Is that generally happening? They say that one big issue is the problem of rematching when people move. There is no one for them to move to.

Sarah Healey: I will start on sponsor availability and then maybe Emma can talk about rematching and our experience of it. First, we ought to acknowledge the number of people who came forward to be sponsors. The NAO Report is very clear that we did not predict or have a target for the number of sponsors that we expected to come forward. We had some operational assumptions to do planning work, but we did not have a number. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that the number who came forward exceeded our expectations, which is a testament to the generosity and commitment of the people who wanted to take part in the scheme and wanted to give safe sanctuary.

Clearly, it was intended to be a time-limited relationship, or could be. We sustain lots of activity to try to encourage people to come forward as sponsors. Inevitably, as time has gone on, the outpouring of a desire to help and come forward to provide support has not been sustained at exactly the same level that it was initially. I don’t think there is currently a significant mismatch between the demand—the numbers arriving—and the number of sponsors that are available. However, were there to be an escalation in the war or particular extra need, we would have to think really hard about how we could encourage a greater supply of sponsors. Do you want to talk about rematching, Emma?

Emma Payne: On rematching, we introduced this element of the scheme so that there is an opportunity for a Ukrainian guest to move to another sponsor if they need to for any reason. Broadly, we think it is working well. We have seen the numbers of rematches increase with time. We have made quite a lot available to local authorities to support them in finding additional sponsors in their local authority area if they need it for rematching. That includes providing comms materials; we have run some comms campaigns centrally as well. We have also over time increased the amount of guidance and support for sponsors, so there is quite a lot available centrally. Also, through the voluntary and community sector, there is now a range of guidance, toolkits and training for sponsors as well.

Q23            Mr Djanogly: It is harder in rural areas, presumably, where there is more distance to language courses and so forth.

Sarah Healey: It very much varies by area. We cannot guarantee that more sponsors are available precisely where people are, just because of the nature of the scheme. Language courses are largely online, so that helps with those issues.

Q24            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I have one more question on visas. The longer people are here, and particularly if their homes in Ukraine have been destroyed, they will establish themselves here. Their children go to school and they have stable accommodation. That makes it more difficult for them to want to return home. Is part of your thinking that a percentage of these people will remain here indefinitely?

Simon Ridley: We are thinking about that issue. We genuinely don’t know—we have not decided, Ministers have not decided—what the right policy response is. The scheme was purposefully set up as a three-year visa scheme, not a full resettlement scheme, for the reasons that Abi set out and that you touched on in terms of the Ukrainian Government’s desire to have citizens back to help rebuild the country. The longer the war has gone on and people have stayed, obviously some people put more roots down. As we said, lots of the people who have arrived include children—I think about 30% are children in school and the like. That is absolutely part of the thinking, but what is the right policy response and answer is yet to come, I’m afraid.

Q25            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Okay. Can I move on to Ms Healey and Ms Payne and talk about safeguarding? Ms Healey, your Department, DLUHC, does not hold accurate data on how often guests arrived before all the checks were completed, or on how long it took local authorities to complete their checks, and you did not seek to collect that data. Is that something that in hindsight you would have altered?

Sarah Healey: A set of risk-based decisions were taken at the beginning of setting up the scheme, particularly with regard to safeguarding. Officials and Ministers were very aware that there was a potential significant risk because of the nature of the cohort that was arriving and the innovative nature of the scheme, with accommodation being provided in homes. We took that extremely seriously at the start of the scheme, but we have always sought, in requiring extra things of local authorities, to balance the need for us to understand what is happening with the need for local authorities to have reasonable and proportionate burdens placed on them.

We actually have some pretty good information about safeguarding. We know, for instance, that of the 66,000 checks undertaken under safeguarding, 2,516 were failed. We don’t know exactly how many of those were down to safeguarding, but we don’t release thank you payments until all the safeguarding checks have been done. In that sense, there is a precaution that makes it clear that the thank you payments and the sponsor relationship will not be fully endorsed until such time as those checks have been completed.

Q26            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: How did you balance the risk of processing visa applications quickly while making sure that sufficient security and safeguarding checks happened before Ukrainians joined their hosts? In some cases, it didn’t actually happen until after they had joined their hosts, did it?

Sarah Healey: No, indeed. This is another example of that risk-based judgment that had to be taken very, very early on, with limited information about exactly how the scheme was going to play out in practice. Ultimately, it was decided that it was more important for people to be able to leave a war zone than for all the checks to have been completed. Home Office checks were completed, but not all local authority checks were completed before people arrived. However, I think the way this has played out in practice supports the fact that that was the right risk-based judgment. Not only was it quite a low number of checks that were failed—as I say, not all of those were necessarily because of safeguarding—but overall the numbers that have been flagged to the national referral mechanism where there are genuine safeguarding issues have been extremely low, considering the numbers involved. Although, obviously, a risk was being taken here, it was proportionate to the risks that we were protecting people from by leaving people who needed to travel in Ukraine for longer.

Q27            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: You rightly took various measures to satisfy yourself that safeguarding was going on. The taskforce put in place a safeguarding strategic advisory board, which in January 2023 made 14 recommendations to try to strengthen the controls around safeguarding, all of which were accepted by the taskforce. How satisfied are you that DLUHC has sufficient understanding of the extent to which safeguarding issues may have arisen through the scheme? It is one thing to have done your checks at the beginning, but issues may arise for a number of reasons during the scheme’s operation.

Sarah Healey: I think we have challenged ourselves on our safeguarding approach really consistently and systematically. The board broadly endorsed the approach that the Department had taken. It made a set of recommendations for improvement—14 recommendations, 13 of which have now been implemented. A different view has been taken on how to take forward the 14th. It is not that the recommendation wasn’t useful; it is just that we are going to take it forward in a slightly different way, which we think achieves the same result. I think that really underlines the extent to which we have built safeguarding into the heart of this, right from the beginning.

Q28            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I was heavily involved with my local authority right at the outset of the scheme, and I must say that at the beginning what was expected of authorities was rather unclear—naturally, because it was going to take you time to give them the guidance. How did you go about consulting and informing them of what was expected of them at the beginning of the scheme?

Chair: Is that to Ms Payne?

Emma Payne: I am very happy to answer it. At the outset of the scheme, we published guidance for local authorities; we then worked quite closely with local authorities in the ways that I talked about previously, to understand where that guidance was working well and where we could improve it. We have improved and strengthened the guidance over time and particularly in the early weeks and months of the scheme. We also held a range of webinars, teach-ins and surgery sessions with local authorities, so that we could answer specific questions and make sure that they had the detailed support that they needed.

Q29            Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: This is the classic question: are you satisfied that you have the data on whether local authorities have done the checks? Has everything been done to ensure that, as far as possible, all those safeguarding checks have been done for Ukrainians living with a host?

Emma Payne: Yes. In the way that Sarah described, we have made it clear what checks need to be done as promptly as possible, and the thank you payments to sponsors do not flow until all those checks have been completed.

Q30            Chair: Can I just check on the safeguarding, Ms Payne? You did the safeguarding as an initial check. Did you do a sampling going back, especially if there was a relationship breakdown, to check whether there was anything that you might have missed, and did you change anything as a result?

Emma Payne: Local authorities conduct the checks, and the guidance makes it clear that it is then for local authorities to ensure that everything remains safe and secure in that sponsor-and-guest relationship. The guidance recommends doing another check at the six-month point. It is not mandatory, but it is in the guidance as a helpful additional check.

Q31            Chair: Do you know how many local authorities did that? From Whitehall, did you have sight of what was going on—whether secondary checks were being carried out and what they were revealing?

Emma Payne: In the way that we have set up the relationship between central Government and local government, the local authorities continue to monitor the safeguarding relationship from that point onwards, so that is held at the local level.

Sarah Healey: It is probably worth emphasising that the safeguarding strategic advisory board was really clear that ownership of this at the local level was the appropriate place to own it, because local authorities are the ones with proper experience of how to approach safeguarding.

Chair: There are lots of interesting lessons about how local authorities work together with that information.

Q32            Ben Lake: I want to continue on a slightly different course but stay with local authorities and the information that is shared with yourselves about the scheme—in particular, the number of households that have suffered homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. I understand that it is not mandatory for local authorities to report on this sort of information, but paragraph 4.12 of the National Audit Office Report notes that the Department “does not accurately know how many people on the scheme are likely to become homeless soon or have already experienced homelessness.” I understand that a reason for that is that around 30% of local authorities in England fail to report regularly on this matter. I have two questions to begin with. First, is it a bit of problem that we do not have a full and accurate picture of the situation? Secondly, how does the data reflect in terms of Wales and Scotland—the devolved nations?

Sarah Healey: Again, there is always a balance between the things we want local authorities to do. It would be great if it was easy for them to report on absolutely everything and it did not constitute any extra burden, but obviously it does, so we have taken a set of balanced judgments. The Report is right in noting that not all local authorities provide this data and not all of them provide it consistently, but the vast majority have provided us with at least some data on this, and there is no reason to believe that those that are not providing the data are outliers, or to suggest that the overall position on homelessness is more serious in those places than it is in the places that are reporting it, especially because some local authorities report sometimes and not all the time. There is no trend that suggests the ones that are not reporting are the ones that are seeing a greater amount of homelessness or risk of homelessness. Therefore, I think we know enough information to be able to identify some pretty clear trends.

While any experience of homelessness or risk of homelessness is something we would like to see prevented, and we have obviously provided extra funding to local authorities so that they are able to take action in those instances, it is relatively low. There are 790 households in temporary accommodation, and 8% are either experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness at any particular time. While we would like to see that number as low as possible, the numbers are not particularly high, considering what we might have expected to happen at the beginning of the scheme, when we did not know how effective sponsor relationships were going to be at providing a sustainable future. I’m afraid I do not know anything about the statistics in Wales. I don’t know whether Emma does.

Emma Payne: I do not have the statistics. We closely engage with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations to understand how things are feeling on the ground there as well, but I do not have the specific statistics.

Q33            Ben Lake: I would be right in understanding that, although you might not have the statistics, you can have the information. For example, if there is a sudden increase or uplift in homelessness from households in Wales, you as a Department would know about that and you could be warned and informed about it.

Ms Healey, your 8% figure, if my maths is correct, will probably be in line with figures suggested in a report commissioned by the Red Cross and undertaken by Professor Glen Bramley—that in the last year or so, around 5,500 Ukrainian households experienced or were at risk of statutory homelessness. Looking to the future, that report suggested that we are in danger of seeing a slight increase in that trend. For the year up until March 2024, they fear that there might be a 13% rise on the previous year. Given what you have said, the trends are probably broadly right. We might have an argument about the specific numbers, but the trend appears to be correct. It comes at a time of severe pressures in general homelessness in the population. With regards to yesterday’s decision, how much of it was informed by an anticipated rise in homelessness and what data was used to base that decision?

Sarah Healey: Do you mean the decision to extend the thank you payments?

Q34            Ben Lake: No, I will come on to that. I mean the £120 million in additional funding.

Sarah Healey: We were conscious of the housing pressures that local authorities are facing and of the fact that that raises a set of challenges, and we wanted to recognise that by providing some extra funding to prevent homelessness. It is worth saying that we do not want to see any risk of homelessness, and in many cases that has been prevented or subsequently dealt with by local authorities using the homelessness prevention money that we have previously provided. Therefore, we thought there was a good case to continue with that.

I would like to flag two other things from yesterday’s autumn statement that are worth pointing you to on homelessness. One is an extension of the local authority housing fund, which enables local authorities to purchase properties to put into social use to address the kinds of issues for cohorts like this and those from Afghanistan. Then, the linking of local housing allowance to the 30th percentile on rents is also a significant feature of enabling families themselves to secure places in the private rented sector.

Q35            Ben Lake: That is certainly something that I would support. With that in mind, is there an expectation placed on local authorities by the Department as to how they spend that money—the £120 million?

Emma Payne: Further details have yet to be announced, including allocations to local authorities. Looking at the funding that was made available for the current financial year, which was announced last December, that is to be used for activities to prevent homelessness. A range of activities have been stipulated for the use of that funding.

Q36            Ben Lake: That was around £150 million. To date, has that been spent in the way that you expected?

Emma Payne: My understanding is that, yes, local authorities will be using it in different ways according to their local needs. My understanding is, yes, it is being used effectively.

Q37            Ben Lake: My final question on this section: one of the things that the Red Cross report highlights, and which is a fair point to make, is that the expected increase or possible increase in the number of Ukrainian households suffering or experiencing homelessness coincides with the general increase across the UK. Also, that the areas of the UK that are suffering the most acute problems with homelessness tend to coincide with the areas of the UK that have welcomed the highest number of Ukrainian families. Is there going to be any sort of targeting in that regard to prevent hotspots from arising?

Sarah Healey: Obviously, that is something that will be worked through in the detail of how that money is distributed. We always like funding to meet need as much as possible. Part of the local authority housing fund is local authorities being able to put their hat in the ring for that, if they have particular pressures.

Q38            Chair: Thank you, Mr Lake. I will come back to you later.

Local authorities have the tariff fund, but quite a lot of them were not asked or were not mandated to report back to you until this year, 2023-24. Why was that, Ms Payne?

Emma Payne: It goes back to the point that was made earlier about proportionate demands on local authorities. When the tariff was set up initially, we set out guidance on what the tariff could and should be used for, and the grant determination letters that accompany the payment of the tariff make it clear what we are asking local authorities to do with that tariff. We collected some information on how the tariff was being used through voluntary returns and engagement with local authorities, but recently we have now included mandatory returns from local authorities—

Q39            Chair: Were those voluntary returns based on a template set out by the Department, or were you just sent emails? How did that work?

Emma Payne: In a range of ways, some through engagement and some with the ability to send us a more formulaic description of how they were using—

Chair: Did you set out what you wanted in those voluntary returns?

Emma Payne: With the voluntary returns, we were a little more open-minded about how to receive such information. Now, with the mandatory returns that we collect, the questions we ask are set out in quite a formulaic way.

Q40            Chair: Looking back for lessons learnt, would it have been better to have had a mandatory—basically, a good—dataset from the beginning on how the money was being used? Would that have been helpful?

Emma Payne: We had a fairly good sense of how the money was being used. We—

Q41            Chair: How did you have that? Did you get that through those voluntary returns and so on?

Emma Payne: Yes, through voluntary returns, engagement with local authorities directly and the LGA.

Q42            Chair: It was qualitative rather than quantitative. Given where we are at, reducing the tariff down from £10,500 to just under £6,000, what are you basing that reduction on?

Emma Payne: We looked at a number of things when that decision was taken. From 1 January this year, the tariff has been at £5,900, one of the reasons being that quite a lot of costs for local authorities were incurred in the set-up of the scheme—setting up new systems, ensuring the right staff were in place, and those kind of things—and those set-up costs have decreased as the scheme has gone on.

Q43            Chair: Really, you are now saying that the £5,900 is effectively per person, for a placement.

Emma Payne: That is right. Yes, for each Ukrainian arrival gets £5,900 that flows.

Q44            Chair: To be clear, that is a new arrival in the country. If they transfer from one local authority to another, what happens then?

Emma Payne: If they transfer from one local authority to another through the rematching process, we—

Chair: The money is supposed to follow them, isn’t it?

Emma Payne: We reconcile. That’s right—the money is pro-rated to however many months they have spent in each of the local authority areas.

Q45            Chair: It is month by month—so you divide the £5,900 by 12 and if they have been with someone for three and a half months, they work it out from that. The systems would not have been set up for that in local government, so was part of the original cost the setting up of those reconciliation systems?

Emma Payne: We do a quarterly data collection from local authorities to inform the payment of the tariff, and we are running an annual reconciliation process. At the end of the last financial year, as part of the data that we received from local authorities, we understood where there had been movements formally through rematching and that was fed into the reconciliation process.

Q46            Chair: Do you have data gaps, because you had that qualitative, voluntary approach at the beginning? Is there data that you could do with now, especially as we are looking at sending the thank you payment and therefore potentially extending the scheme? Is there data that you are missing that you could have done with?

Emma Payne: Going back to the balance between the data that we need and the demands on local authorities, I think we have the data that we think we need as a Department, and local authorities have the data that they need to be delivering the scheme locally.

Q47            Chair: Okay. Ms Healey, 30% of local authorities do not provide data on homelessness, to pick up on small points that Mr Lake was making, and that homelessness data will be critical to you administering the scheme in the UK and to individual local authorities. How are you getting a real grip on that data? Is there anything you want to add?

Sarah Healey: As I responded earlier, 30% are not regularly providing it, but we believe that we have a relatively representative sample in the data that we have received—

Q48            Chair: Why are they not though? For most of our local authorities, it is a pretty critical issue.

Emma Payne: It is a monthly collection. We have been working closely with local authorities to boost the returns, so that we have as much information as possible. I think the last return that we had was quite significantly higher than 70%, so—

Q49            Chair: Okay, so engagement is going up. What trends are you seeing in? Is there anything that you can reveal beyond where there NAO got to? Have there been any changes since the NAO Report?

Emma Payne: No; the homelessness data is published on a monthly basis.

Q50            Chair: Okay. There is the contract with Palantir to maintain the data, which will end in September 2024. All of this relates to how the scheme will run on in its own form, I suppose. What is the plan for that? What discussions are you already having about whether you will maintain that scheme and how long it will go on for after September 2024?

Sarah Healey: That is something that we will look at really closely.

Chair: It is less than a year away.

Sarah Healey: Indeed, so that is something that we will obviously take a decision about at the appropriate moment.

Q51            Chair: What is the appropriate moment? Is it that you are waiting for the Home Office—for visas? Can you explain the process that this has to go through in Whitehall before you will know what you have to do with the Palantir contract?

Emma Payne: We are constantly looking at what data and digital solutions we need to run the programme and to enable the data flows that are currently in place between the Home Office, local authorities, and going back to DLUHC. We will keep looking at all of that when considering what the requirements will be, going forward.

Sarah Healey: We are not currently concerned that we are not taking action now that will constrain our choices further down the line.

Q52            Chair: Is it a contract with an extension clause that you can just roll on, or do you have to retender?

Sarah Healey: I believe we could extend it one more time.

Chair: For how long?

Sarah Healey: A year?

Emma Payne: For one more year.

Q53            Chair: So you could extend. If you took that route, that would take you to September 2025, but there must be a point of no return at which you will have no option but to extend the existing contract.

Sarah Healey: Well, indeed, and we are doing this on the appropriate timetable, because we are conscious of some of the criticism of the way that this was set up at the very beginning, and we are conscious that we do not want to end up in a position where we have no options.

Q54            Chair: You are basically waiting for policy decisions from Ministers before you can do anything, are you?

Sarah Healey: Yes.

Q55            Chair: What is the point of no return? Could you retender for it now, even at this late stage? When is the point at which you would just have to roll over an extension?

Sarah Healey: I am afraid I do not know the answer to that question, precisely. There is always a set of balanced judgments about exactly when—

Q56            Chair: I am just thinking, practically, about the time that it takes to do procurement. That would take a while, wouldn’t it? Presumably you cannot procure it as quickly as six months, you might be able to, but it would be quite a challenge.

Sarah Healey: We are working closely with commercial colleagues in the Department to work out an appropriate timetable, but I am afraid that I just cannot give you a precise answer, right now. I am happy to follow up on that.

Chair: It would be helpful to get a follow-up. As you say, part of the reason that I am asking the question is because of what happened in the initial set-up.

Q57            Ben Lake: Yesterday’s decision to extend the thank you payments has already been mentioned. I will ask a few questions on that point, first. Clearly, that decision has been welcomed, and I know of many families that have cited that the cost of living crisis is having an impact on their ability to continue to host families from Ukraine. What are your expectations of the impact that this decision will have on sustaining these sponsor-host relationships? Do you have any initial analysis that informed the decision to extend it for another year? Do you have any numbers or data around its expected impact?

Emma Payne: We look at a range of things. We have data on the number of thank you payments that are being paid out—the number of people still in sponsorship—but, as the scheme has gone on, we have also had really rich survey data from surveys that the Office for National Statistics has run. Those surveys have looked at questions like for how long sponsors would be able to host and whether there are any barriers to continuing to host. That has been a really rich source of information for us.

Q58            Ben Lake: Is it possible to summarise some of the findings from that survey? Would you be able to tell us some of the key hurdles to and challenges in maintaining those relationships?

Emma Payne: It varies a little bit from sponsor to sponsor, but there are some things that we are aware of. We know that there is a real importance to the thank you payments, and that knowledge has been relevant to the decisions that have been taken. Some sponsors and hosts have been keen for more guidance on the kinds of things that they should do, as a sponsor. We have used that feedback to improve and enhance the available guidance. I know that local authorities have also drawn on that to provide additional support at the local level, so it has given us those kinds of insights on how it is working on the ground.

Sarah Healey: The thank you payments will obviously tackle some barriers in a financial sense, but they also have a psychological impact in terms of recognising the contribution that people are making. They will not necessarily help with some challenges and barriers for hosting—issues to do with language barriers or people simply getting to a point where they do not want to share their home any longer. I think it has both a financial impact and a psychological effect.

Q59            Ben Lake: I completely understand that. In terms of some of the survey data or any other information that you were given prior to the decision to extend the thank you payments, was it possible to quantify the number of sponsor-host relationships that were at risk of breaking down if the thank you payments were not continued?

Emma Payne: It is quite difficult to quantify that exactly, because it depends on individual circumstances. But through the range of different ways that we monitor the scheme—through the data, through the surveys and through the insight that we pick up from local authorities and VCS partners—we have been able to build a good sense of that.

Q60            Ben Lake: Just to be clear, the ONS surveys were not necessarily asking households that had suffered a breakdown in the host-and-sponsor relationship.

Emma Payne: The ONS has conducted surveys both of guests who have come to the UK and of sponsors, and my understanding is that that has included people who are continuing to sponsor but also people who were sponsors and no longer have a guest with them, so it has given us that range.

Q61            Ben Lake: If I can, dare I say, look to the future—I appreciate that you do not have a crystal ball—am I correct in understanding that the assumption being made about new arrivals up to March ’24 is that there will be around 20,000 households from Ukraine? I saw that in the briefing; I think it was the Home Office assessment. Does that sound right to you?

Abi Tierney: We are seeing about 400 to 600 a week at the moment, so it will be about that.

Q62            Ben Lake: Mr Djanogly mentioned earlier that the Department had to take a few measures to boost sponsorship and the number of sponsors, and you mentioned some of the information campaigns that you conducted, Ms Payne. I think you went to the Minister back in July 2022 to express some concerns about the pool of sponsors. How successful were some of these recruitment drives in getting new sponsors to sign up to the scheme?

Emma Payne: We have taken a range of steps as the scheme has gone on. We have talked about the recruitment campaigns. We have made materials available for local authorities to use locally. We have also worked with VCS and a number of registered providers who are listed on the gov.uk website, who can drive up sponsor appetite. We think that those measures have been quite effective. We are still seeing new arrivals to the country, and that means people are finding sponsors in order to get their visa and come across.

Q63            Ben Lake: So at the moment, the number of new arrivals is being matched by enough sponsors.

Sarah Healey: As I said earlier, at the moment we are not seeing evidence of a significant mismatch between the demand to arrive and the sponsors that are available. The challenge would be in a situation where there was a significant escalation and therefore substantially higher demand. We would have to look at that again.

Q64            Ben Lake: Would there also be a challenge if you got a higher number of relationships breaking down? Is there a weekly figure for the number of host-sponsor relationships breaking down, as you might have for new arrivals? There are 400 to 600 new arrivals a week. Do we have an equivalent figure for the number of relationships breaking down?

Emma Payne: That is managed at a local level, because there are a number of different things that a local authority can do in that event.

Q65            Ben Lake: Hopefully it will not happen, but in the event that there is an escalation in the conflict and we have a greater number of families coming to the UK, what consideration has been given to returning to the some 250,000 individuals who initially expressed interest in the scheme but did not continue to host a family? Is it possible to go back to some of those people and ask, “Are you still interested, and would you be willing to participate?”

Emma Payne: We have, at times, through the course of the scheme, written out to that list, and we have also shared that list with the local authorities so that they understand who is on that list from their area, and they can work with them directly as well if they would like to.

Q66            Ben Lake: And in response to those efforts, what has the take-up been like?

Emma Payne: As I said, there has been a range of things and it is quite difficult to disaggregate which step has had which impact.

Q67            Ben Lake: But once you have written to them, you have had people then decide, “Yes, we’ll participate”?

Sarah Healey: There are two things to point out. First, at the moment, we are not seeing a significant mismatch between demand and provision. Secondly, one of the decisions that was made very early on was not to centralise this process, and therefore not to have a centralised mechanism to match sponsors with individuals. Therefore, to a certain extent, the sponsors that have come forward, and whether or not they have found matches on the basis of different interventions, will not be clear and transparent to us. All we can say is that the impact has been one in which we are not seeing a significant mismatch.

Q68            Ben Lake: I am quite reassured—correct me if I have misunderstood—that in the unfortunate event of an increase in hostilities, there are mechanisms in place so that we could go to that pool of people who expressed an interest.

Sarah Healey: Yes.

Ben Lake: Thank you.

Q69            Chair: But are you not curious about the data? In terms of precedents for other schemes, there is presumably potential to use a scheme like this for other situations. Will you be commissioning any work to interrogate that?

Sarah Healey: Like always, we are absolutely open to what further research we can do to understand better the operation of the event. Obviously, our focus for now has been making sure that this scheme works.

Q70            Mr Djanogly: If a local authority does not have adequate or appropriate people in a particular case, what would they do? Would they go to the neighbouring local authority?

Emma Payne: There would be a range of things that they could do. They could go to a neighbouring local authority, or they could work with VCS organisations in their areas.

Sarah Healey: Local authorities obviously have a range of levers that they can use if a sponsor relationship has broken down. Rematching is one, but obviously the local authorities do not run a matching service, in the same way that we do not run one nationally. They can also use homelessness prevention grant or they can use their LAHF funding in terms of provision of accommodation in future. They have a range of levers that they can use.

Q71            Mr Djanogly: I was just thinking that because you said that there is adequate supply for demand at the moment, and this is obviously being done by local authorities, so presumably there are some areas where it is better than others.

Sarah Healey: Yes.

Q72            Chair: We have talked about a surge in cases coming through. Ms Tierney, if there were a sudden surge now—if there was an escalation of what is already a very intense war—how capable would the Home Office be of dealing with it?

Abi Tierney: I think we are capable. One of the things that we have really learned in the last three or four years, with covid, Afghanistan and Ukraine, is to build a much more flexible workforce. I now have a flexible deployment team, similar to the HMRC team, and it is growing all the time. It is about 250 people at the moment. They are currently supporting asylum processing, but we could move those around. In a lot of our recruitment campaigns recently, we have also been recruiting many more what we call generic decision makers, so not decision makers that just go into one area. That again means that we can be much more flexible.

I am confident that we would be able to deal with a surge. Of course, a lot of the processing and the systems and everything learned has already been done, because that was the hardest, in some ways. We are also within all of our SLAs for visas and passports, so we could let some of those go out a little bit in order to service it.

Q73            Chair: The slight worry in this Committee—some of us have been MPs for a long while—is that if a sudden surge rightly goes into supporting people from Ukraine or Afghanistan, other bits of the system lose out—everything from marriage to work visas, frankly. Mr Ridley, how are you ensuring that you have the resources from both central Government and the Treasury? Are you getting enough, and what are you doing to try to maintain a standard of service in the other areas that could be affected when staff move over to deal with these crises?

Simon Ridley: A lot of what Abi said is core to the approach that we are taking. I would say three things. First, we have, over the course of the last few years, brought a lot of resources into the Home Office, in terms of numbers. We have grown our caseworking teams in various parts of the organisation.

Secondly, we have been increasingly using caseworking colleagues flexibly. Abi has talked about the core flexible team, but equally, as the Passport Office has come into its SLAs over the last year—it is performing at a very high level—we are using colleagues from the Passport Office to support other caseworking, and that is enabling us to train people in different ways, making us more flexible and therefore more resilient.

Thirdly, we continue to work very closely with HMRC and DWP, which at the beginning of the Ukraine scheme provided additional resource through their surge teams to support us.

Chair: It has ever been thus.

Simon Ridley: That is still there in Government across the—

Q74            Chair: But that has always been the case, hasn’t it?

Simon Ridley: Yes, absolutely. That is not new. What we have done is try to make sure that in the Home Office we have the resources we need and the flexibility to deploy people to different pressures as they come—

Chair: Within the Home Office family.

Simon Ridley: Within the Home Office family.

Abi Tierney: I would add a fourth one: we are doing more and more to automate and transform our systems, so we are needing fewer people. With passports, we are doing more and more that is going through pure automation. It is the same with visas. Every time we put things like work and study routes through the FBIS programme, we need fewer people to deliver more output. I watch really carefully, and we are getting more and more productive, almost monthly. That means that we have more capacity to support a surge.

Q75            Chair: If there were a surge or another world event that meant that we were doing this again, what would be better, Ms Tierney, now that you have the framework and you have learned lessons from what happened? What would work better?

Abi Tierney: There will be the resourcing piece—having a flexible team. We are finding that the flexible deployment team is one of our most productive teams. They are people who really enjoy and thrive in variety and pressure. Immediately, we would put a highly experienced team on who are used to our systems. One of the things that we had with DWP and HMRC, who are fantastic—the other bit that I did not mention was that we were on Proviso, which is an old FCDO system, when we first kicked off the Ukraine programme, which had to be done from the office and could only be done from our offices, so we had to create a whole new load of terminals before we could even increase our own staff to use those. Once we got on to AUK1 and AUK2, which is our Atlas system, we could use DWP and HMRC teams from their offices and also from home.

Chair: Already that is a huge step change.

Abi Tierney: It is huge. On any new visa scheme that we have to set up, we have so many people now that can use the Atlas system. They would not need to be trained on it. They would understand how to use it. We are trying to make all of our visa processing and more and more of our asylum processing look and feel similar, reducing—we had this conversation last time I was here—the time it takes to train somebody from start to end. I think that will be a big difference.

Chair: That is really your big win from this.

Abi Tierney: Yes.

Q76            Chair: On the big picture, of course, we are looking at value for money here. We have looked at schemes for Syria and for Afghans. A lot of Afghans in my constituency and elsewhere are still in hotels over a year later. There are important lessons about the sponsorship model and how that has sped up people being in the community, which is better than being in a hotel room in Old Street, frankly. In terms of value for money, on the face of it, it looks like it is better value. What do you think you have learned from this in terms of value for money, and would you try to replicate this process for other schemes in future?

Abi Tierney: I agree. You have given a really good answer to the question. It is really hard on a humanitarian scheme to measure value for money, because what you are doing is saving people’s lives. If I look at the pure cost to the Home Office, the resourcing—plus we did lose some income because we slowed down some of our other routes—was just over £50 million. Compare that to what we are spending on bridging accommodation. As you say, I don’t think that is the best experience for people who are vulnerable.

Q77            Chair: It is overseas development money. We were discussing with the previous witnesses how we are taking money from overseas development to pay for this. Ms Payne, what is your point of view? Or Ms Healey, perhaps you have an overview as accounting officer.

Sarah Healey: Obviously, the NAO did not do a value for money study on this, but I think we can point to a few crucial things that have made this scheme much lower cost. Cost per night of the accommodation itself is quite significantly different between this and other resettlement programmes. Also, there was the hard-to-quantify, but definitely there, support that was offered by sponsors to individuals, which otherwise would have either fallen on the public purse to provide or would have seen worse outcomes, because it would have been harder to have moved people into appropriate education or training or work opportunities.

I was talking to some sponsors from my own Department who assisted with things like university applications, and seeing somebody in an appropriate university course through this kind of scheme would have been really difficult to have effected through central Government mechanisms. One of those things is quite hard to quantify, and with the other it is very easy to see how much less this cost per night to the taxpayer—even though I do not underestimate the cost to sponsors in some instances of offering this kind of support.

Q78            Chair: Ms Payne, are you doing anything to try to gather together the softer stuff—softer is perhaps not the right word—or the hard-to-quantify social and community support that was provided? I know that the Home Office has always done this a bit through the gateway programme from UN camps. There was a whole area about hosting, so there is some evidence in Whitehall about how that was done. But have you done any particular analysis, or will you be commissioning any evaluation?

Emma Payne: We have been looking at a lot of insights as we have gone along, and we have talked about some of that this morning. We absolutely continue to gather that together so that we can understand how this is operating in practice.

Q79            Chair: Because the difference between someone stuck in a hotel, sometimes with a baby born here away from all their family, and someone who is actually in a home where someone can provide support is almost immeasurable. But it is actually measurable, and we like to look at the measures, so will you be looking at some of those things? Have you got a timeframe for when you might be commissioning any work on that?

Sarah Healey: I do not think we have a timeframe for an evaluation at the moment.

Chair: Because capturing it while it is still live is perhaps something—

Sarah Healey: It is also worth pointing out the unusual context here. While it is absolutely right that we should learn the lessons and we should evaluate—completely agree with all of that—I also think these were quite unusual circumstances. We must learn the lessons, but we also must not assume that this is a sort of blueprint that can be applied easily in all contexts.

Q80            Chair: No, we appreciate that. We have looked at the Syrian scheme, which was particularly effective. The Afghan scheme did not seem to learn the lessons from that in the same way.

Ms Tierney, a final word to you, partly because we are being indulgent because you are leaving Whitehall. This is your last hearing in front of the Committee, so a brief word from you.

Abi Tierney: I will just say that I have absolutely loved the last four years, and I really value this kind of scrutiny, which does allow us to learn lessons. I would come back like a shot with the right opportunity—I just wanted to say that.

Sarah Healey: Once you have sorted out Welsh rugby. [Laughter.]

Ben Lake: Big task.

Abi Tierney: I am incredibly proud of this scheme, and I think this Report does say that. The creativity—I remember the amount of obstacles we were hitting. I was sat—I do not know whether Emma was in the room—in the special advisers’ room next to the Home Secretary’s room at 2 o’clock in the morning trying to work out how we could make AUK2 work, with everybody believing and just pushing to get those people. I went to the first flight landing in Birmingham and could see the people arriving, so I am incredibly proud of the difference that this scheme has made. I am very proud of the team and what they have delivered.

Chair: Thank you for that. I am sure we are proud of the teams that really worked on the ground, and thanks to all those sponsors and those in local authorities who stepped in—I see Ms Payne nodding vigorously there.

I think we will call it a day there. Thank you for your time. The uncorrected transcript will be available on the website in the next couple of days. We as a Committee will obviously compare and contrast these different resettlement schemes, so we may come back to this in that context, and we will be keen to see evaluation of money and impact over time. Clearly there will be some questions to ask, but we will be producing a report on this, which will be out in the new year, and we will send you a copy, Ms Tierney, to your new home. Thank you very much indeed.