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Plans for the national roll-out for Universal Credit were overambitious, poorly managed and are not value for money, according to a report from the National Audit Office.
The report says that the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its early implementation of Universal Credit, whose national roll-out has been delayed after being programmed to begin in October for new claimants.
The report states that the DWP is not yet able to assess the value of the systems it spent over £300 million to develop and concludes that the Department was overly ambitious in both the timetable and scope of the programme. It says: “The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.”
In damning remarks it said that the Department did not have any adequate measures of progress for the early implementation of its plans. Over 70 per cent of the £425 million spent to date has been on IT systems, says the report. However, £34 million of the Department’s new IT systems have been written off and it does not yet know if they will support national roll-out. It adds: “The existing systems offer limited functionality. For instance, the current IT system lacks a component to identify potentially fraudulent claims so that the Department has to rely on multiple manual checks on claims and payments. Such checks will not be feasible or adequate once the system is running nationally. Problems with the IT system have delayed national roll-out of the programme.”
The NAO says: “The programme still has potential to create significant benefits for society, but the Department must scale back its delivery ambition and set out realistic plans.”
The Department will not introduce Universal Credit for all new claims nationally in October 2013 as planned, and is now reconsidering its plans for full roll-out. Instead, it will extend pilots to six more sites with these new sites taking on only the simplest claims. The NAO says delays to the roll-out will reduce the expected benefits of reform and – if the Department maintains a 2017 completion date – increase risks by requiring the rapid migration of a large volume of claimants.
The report says: “The source of many problems has been the absence of a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work. In addition, poor control and decision-making undermined confidence in the programme and contributed to a lack of progress. The Department has particularly lacked IT expertise and senior leadership, with frequent changes in senior management.”