Report slams Universal Credit management

Family, shared parental leave, working families

 

The management of Universal Credit has been “extraordinarily poor” and pilots are inadequate because they do not address the most complex cases, such as people with families, according to a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

It says there has been “a shocking absence of financial and other internal controls” and the Committee is not yet convinced that the Department has robust plans to overcome the problems that have impeded progress. Calling managing of the programme “extraordinarily poor”, it says “oversight has been characterised by a failure to understand properly the nature and enormity of the task, a failure to monitor and challenge progress regularly, and a failure to intervene promptly when problems arose”.

It adds that senior managers only became aware of problems through ad hoc reviews, mostly conducted by external reviewers, as inadequate management information and reporting arrangements had not alerted them that things were amiss. “Given its huge importance to the Department, the Accounting Officer and his team should have been more alert to identifying and acting on early warning signs that things were going wrong with the programme,” says the report which calculates that the problems have resulted around £140m of public money being effectively wasted.

Other failings it reports include:

– A lack of oversight which allowed the Department’s Universal Credit team to become isolated and defensive, undermining its ability to recognise the size of the problems the programme faced and to be candid when reporting progress.

– A culture of hiding the programme’s problems and only telling “the good news”.

– An “inadequate” pilot programme which does not deal with the key issues that Universal Credit must address: the volume of claims; their complexity; change in claimants’ circumstances; the need for claimants to meet conditions for continuing entitlement to benefit; and the security of information to prevent fraud.

The report gives a number of recommendations which it says are designed to help get the programme back on track. In particular, it says, the Department needs a robust plan on how to transform its business and what is required from the new IT systems it intends to use to support the transformation and it says monitoring of progress must be done at the most senior levels. It states: “If the Department is to secure the benefits it seeks, the new IT capabilities must enable more online operations, must address fraud risks, and result in a system capable of handling the real-world complexities of claimants’ circumstances. The Department must be realistic and transparent about its expected costs and timescales, and the milestones against which we can hold it to account. We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.”

The report gives a number of recommendations which it says are designed to help get the programme back on track. In particular, it says, the Department needs a robust plan on how to transform its business and what is required from the new IT systems it intends to use to support the transformation. It says: “If the Department is to secure the benefits it seeks, the new IT capabilities must enable more online operations, must address fraud risks, and result in a system capable of handling the real-world complexities of claimants’ circumstances. The Department must be realistic and transparent about its expected costs and timescales, and the milestones against which we can hold it to account. We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.”





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