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26.02.15

0.3% of eligible claimants use Universal Credit as MPs criticise progress

“Very little progress” has been made on Universal Credit with only 0.3% of eligible claimants on the scheme despite £700m being spent on development.

The criticism comes in a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which found that only 18,000 people were claiming the new benefit by October 2014, even though plans call for seven million claimants by 2019.

The much delayed benefit – which replaces six existing benefits with one single payment – began its phased roll-out earlier this month.

One of the particular areas of concern for the committee continues to be the IT infrastructure, as the Department for Work and Pensions only plans to use 10% of the IT developed long-term.

PAC chair, Margaret Hodge MP, said: “The Department has spent £344m with suppliers developing its 'live' service systems for claimants who have straightforward initial claims which do not involve all 6 benefits, yet it expects to re-use just £34m worth of this IT in the longer term.”

The committee also found the live systems to be technically limited and expensive to operate because they require manual intervention.

The DWP is currently developing and testing a new digital service, which it intends will deliver Universal Credit to all types of claimant in the long term. In the meantime it has adopted a 'twin-track approach' – running the two separate systems in parallel.

Hodge said: “This is complicated and expensive. The Department believes this will bring forward the anticipated benefits of the programme but it must ensure it does not allow the mixed, two-track approach to continue for longer than is required.

“Both the Department and HM Treasury now regard the live service as the programme’s de facto contingency, even though the Major Projects Authority told us last year that it doubted those systems were capable of handling the full range of claimants.”

Last November, the National Audit Office concluded that DWP’s twin-track approach to rolling out its ‘live service’ while simultaneously developing its new ‘digital service’, means Universal Credit may not be value for money regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so. 

In early 2013 the DWP ‘reset’ the Universal Credit scheme following a Major Projects Authority review which expressed serious concerns about the programme lacking detailed plans, and it has now put Universal Credit on a sounder footing. Since the reset, however, the Department has already fallen a further six months behind schedule for developing the digital service.

The committee is also critical of the lack of transparency of the DWP as it fought a legal battle in order to prevent publications that may have shown it in a negative light.

“We were disappointed that the Department chose to fight a protracted legal battle to prevent the publication of its programme milestones schedules against which it could be held to account publicly, although it appears to have become more open and improved its governance of the programme recently,” Hodge said.

A DWP spokesman said: “Universal Credit is on track and we are making good progress - almost 64,000 people have made a claim and this time next year UC will be in every jobcentre in the country.

“Latest evidence shows it’s already transforming lives with Universal Credit claimants moving into work faster and earning more.

“Using existing IT ensures value for money and will save the taxpayer over £2bn.”

(Image source: HelenCobain)

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