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29.05.15

NAO calls on DWP to learn ‘hard lessons’ from high-profile failures

The National Audit Office (NAO) has called for the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to use the “hard lessons” it learned from implementing its recent programme of welfare reforms to improve how it manages change and anticipates risk.

According to the report, despite some important and high-profile failings, such as the reset of the Universal Credit programme and the many IT failures it has experienced, the DWP has continued to make progress in major programmes and in overcoming the operational challenges.

However, it adds that the DWP has relied too heavily on uncertain and insufficiently challenged operating assumptions, and did not have a sufficient understanding of its portfolio of programmes or overall capacity.

The study says that the DWP often has a clear, high-level vision but needs to think more strategically when considering how reforms will work in practice.

Among the reforms examined were the implementation of the household benefit cap as well as the Work Programme to tackle unemployment and the introduction of pensions auto-enrolment.

It found that the DWP thought too late about management information and how to understand progress and performance, which meant it took several weeks to identify backlogs in Personal Independence Payment claims.

The NAO concludes that, although the DWP has learnt to introduce reforms gradually, it has not always used phasing successfully. It now needs to think about how it can use the phased approach to reduce significant operational risks.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "Any large portfolio of reforms will run into problems. The department has shown a resolute approach to dealing with them.

“However, we think it has relied too much on dealing with difficulties as they emerge rather than anticipating what might go wrong. As a result it has had to learn some hard lessons with significant financial and human costs.

“It is important that the department use these hard lessons to improve how it manages change and anticipates risk."

A DWP spokesman said: “This department has one of the most ambitious reform agendas across Whitehall and has successfully delivered welfare reform, while cutting overall costs – as this report acknowledges. While this report looks to the past, we are busy looking ahead, continuing to deliver reforms safely and incorporating lessons learned as we have always done.

“Delivering change on this scale is a challenge, but this government is committed to delivering a benefit system that is fairer for all.”

(Picture by: Kirsty Wigglesworth / PA Wire)

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