By Tony Collins
Staff in job centres working on Universal Credit system are writing jobseekers’ personal information down on paper because their IT systems are so “clunky and cumbersome”, Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee, told Civil Service World.
“When we visited the Bolton Jobcentre Plus the IT system seemed clunky and cumbersome,” Begg said. Staff making appointments for UC applicants at the Bolton pilot scheme “had to write out some of the [jobseekers’] personal details, just to transfer them from one computer system to another. That’s something that we would have expected to be ironed out.”
The handwriting of jobseekers’ details “could lead to transposing errors”, she said. Further, the Universal Credit IT system doesn’t allow jobseekers to save their data midway through an online application, Begg said. She warned that this will penalise those who don’t own computers, who will have to remember to take all of their personal details in one batch to open access computers such as those at local libraries.
But a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said:
“The IT supporting Universal Credit is working well and the vast majority of people are claiming online. Making a claim to Universal Credit in one session… helps ensure the security of a claimant’s information.”
Last month a leaked survey of staff at the Department of Work and Pensions who are working on Universal Credit programme found dishonesty, secrecy, poor communications, inadequate leadership and low morale.
[ Computer Weekly reports that the DWP placed just 0.5% of its Universal Credit IT spending directly with SMEs, and that the department’s major suppliers – Accenture, Atos, BT, IBM, Capita, HP and SCC – subcontracted little to SMEs. “The Universal Credit supply chain flowed downstream mostly to multinational technology suppliers such as Oracle, Nuance, Genband and RedHat.” Most Universal Credit IT spending has gone to Accenture, IBM and HP: £57m, £41m and £34m respectively, between January 2011 and May 2013.]
While keeping secret internal reports on the Universal Credit IT project, and while all the signs are that Universal Credit’s IT is in trouble – it’s easier to handle claims at least in part by hand – the DWP’s senior officials, spokespeople and Iain Duncan Smith are telling the public and Parliament that all is well.
Perhaps the next logical step is that they come onto the public stage in costume to tell us nursery tales, while playing stock characters who sing, dance, and perform skits. Maybe then they’ll be more believable.