By Tony Collins
Excerpts from today’s National Audit Office report “Universal Credit: progress update” …
Not complete by 2020
“Not all legacy benefit claimants will have moved to Universal Credit by the end of 2019.”
Assumptions are changing massively
“Universal Credit impacts depend on policy assumptions. For example, there was a £30 billion movement between 2011 and 2012 in the Department’s estimate of benefit spending, which went from a £19.7 billion cost to a £10.8 billion saving. The Department changed its methodology over this time but the size of this movement was largely due to changes in benefit entitlement and conditionality.”
Spending on existing UC systems questionable?
“HM Treasury has expressed concerns about the value for money of further investment in live service systems.”
What if the digital system fails?
“ Following the Major Projects Authority’s review, HM Treasury requested, in April 2014, the Department provide it with contingency plans should the digital service be delayed or fail. The Department is due to update HM Treasury at the end of November 2014 on its progress in developing such plans.”
The small print
You can claim Universal Credit if you:
- fall into one of the accepted groups
- do not own or part own your home;
- have a bank or building society account;
- do not live in temporary accommodation;
- are not pregnant or given birth within the last 15 weeks;
- are not a carer;
- are not self-employed;
- are unemployed or have household earnings of less than £330 per month if over 25 or £270 if under 25;
- are not challenging or awaiting a decision on Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or tax credits;
- are not staying away from your main home;
- are not responsible for a child or young person who is: adopted, fostered, being looked after, registered blind or have a disability benefit.
“In June 2012, CESG [the IT security arm of GCHQ) found that security had not been properly considered from the start. The [UC] systems were developed by multiple suppliers without an overarching plan for how it would work as a whole.
“A Red Team review concluded that the programme lacked appropriate detail around the security measures it needed because of: ineffective links between design and security teams; invalid assumptions being made by technical teams about what was acceptable to the business; a lack of balance between usability and security; poor understanding of dependencies between components; and little consideration of the technical implications of business design activities. The Department was unable to address these concerns prior to the reset in February 2013.”
A good approach to agile
“Since the reset (in 2013), the Department has concentrated its use of agile on developing digital service using a co-located, mixed-skill team. In June 2014, consultants commissioned by the programme board reported that a good agile approach is in place, and that a strong agile culture and organisation has been found inside the digital service.
“The consultants also found that a focus on long-term planning and effective communication of progress is required to drive scale and delivery, and that adjustments to the team structure will be required to ensure scalability…
“To remain on track, the Department will have 18 months to increase functionality to create a fully integrated service eventually capable of handling up to 10 million claimants. It will use an agile approach to do this. The Department plans to trial new systems in spring 2015, when it intends to start testing efficiencies and delivery against policy intent. It then plans to test increased capacity from November 2015.”
Not so agile
“…The Department will continue to use traditional approaches for buying and maintaining systems supplied commercially, such as existing Department‑wide systems and cloud hosting…”
In April 2014, a software update [from a major supplier] created new problems for [UC] calculations and inaccuracy increased again. Between April and June 2014, over 10% of payments made to claimants were incorrect. This damaged staff and stakeholder confidence in the system and the Department had to reintroduce 100% manual checking of payments in June 2014 …
“… At present the Department is undertaking 100% checking of all payments before they go out.”
Confidence in the leadership team has improved despite continuing difficulties and the heavy demands on the programme director through 2014 caused by the limited availability of the senior responsible owner. A follow-up survey found a large increase in the number of staff expressing confidence in the actions of senior leadership (from 30% in 2013 to 75% in 2014) and an increase in the number of staff who feel that senior management encourages challenge and welcomes their suggestions (from 30% in 2013 to 70% in 2014).
Do major suppliers have too much control of DWP IT?
“The Department’s management of suppliers has been tested by the problems that emerged following an IT update in April 2014 designed to enhance live service. A supplier made significant changes in addition to the work that had been commissioned by the Department. It did not fully inform the Department of this, therefore the update was not adequately tested before it went live.
“The release caused an increase in payment errors described in Part Three. The supplier agreed to rectify the coding at its own expense. This delayed the next release by 2 weeks because of constraints on departmental and supplier resources, and the need to implement further controls recommended in a review commissioned by the Department after the April release.
“In November 2014, the Department’s internal audit reported that the programme has built technical capability to challenge, monitor and review supplier performance, including challenge of the management information provided.”
“As planned, many processes in live service and digital service areas currently remain dependent on manual interventions.”