DWP drops claim Universal Credit is on time

By Tony Collins

For  more than a year the DWP press office has countered articles on Universal Credit’s IT project problems with the claim that the scheme is on time and to budget. Spokespeople for the department have said each time that Universal Credit will be fully delivered by the end of 2017.

Now it has dropped the claim.  Today the DWP says in a press release that “most” of the existing benefit claimants will be moved over to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017.  

On the advice of Universal Credit project lead Howard Shiplee the DWP is pressing ahead with the existing IT and “enhancing” it rather than starting anew. 

Says the DWP:

The next stage of delivery of Universal Credit will concentrate on the continued safe and secure roll out of the vital reform… 

As announced in July, the department has been working in conjunction with the Government Digital Service to explore an enhanced IT system for Universal Credit that uses the latest in technological advances.

“Today, ministers confirm that this system has proved viable and the department will further develop this work with a view to rolling it out once testing is complete.

“While this work is undertaken, Universal Credit will continue to expand. It is now live in 7 areas across the country, growing to 10 by spring 2014. From there, the roll out will expand beyond the existing single claimant group, to new claims from couples and families in all of these areas.

“By the end of next year, Universal Credit will start also to expand to cover more of the north-west. Universal Credit will therefore expand in scope and scale over the next 2 years.

“Pressing ahead with the existing system while the enhanced IT is being developed will allow for greater understanding of how individuals in different circumstances interact with Universal Credit. It also allows higher volumes of people to benefit from the better work incentives that come with the new benefit. Importantly, this approach will still allow the Universal Credit programme to roll out within the original budget.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:

“This is a once in a generation reform. And we’re going to get it right by bringing it in carefully and responsibly.

“Our approach will ensure that while we continue to enhance the IT for Universal Credit, we will learn from and expand the existing service, so that we fully understand how people interact with it, and how we can best support them.
Early indications show that people are positive about the new benefit, and my department is working hard to ensure this good progress continues.

“Current plans will see new claims to existing benefits closed during 2016. This will mean that all new benefit claimants across the country will claim Universal Credit instead of the legacy benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance or Housing Benefit…

“Decisions on the later stages of Universal Credit roll out will also be informed by the completion of the enhanced IT and these decisions will determine the final details for how people transition to the new benefit.

“The overriding priority throughout will be continued safe and smooth delivery and, as recommended by the Public Accounts Committee in their recent report on Universal Credit, this will take precedence over meeting specific timings.”

Comment 

Can the public and Parliament trust anything the DWP says about the progress on major IT-based projects? Those working on Universal Credit have known for 18 months that the project has been in trouble, but this has been repeatedly denied by DWP spokespeople who have insisted the scheme is on budget and on time to be fully completed by the end of 2017.

We know from the National Audit Office that the IT is not within budget and today we have the DWP’s admission that the programme will not be complete by the end of 2017 – something Campaign4Change and other sites have posted articles on for more than a year.

DWP’s over-optimism

“We will implement Universal Credit on time by 2017 and within budget – our plan is achievable.” – DWP in September 2013.

The DWP spokesperson added (September 2013) 

“We are committed to delivering Universal Credit on time by 2017 and within budget, and under new leadership we have a plan in place that is achievable.”

A DWP spokesperson told ComputerworldUK in September 2013:

“We are committed to delivering Universal Credit on time by 2017 and within budget, and under new leadership we have a plan in place that is achievable.”

It’s likely that Howard Shiplee has reported to IDS on what can and cannot be achieved by the end of 2017. He might have detailed the many IT-related uncertainties that still exist. But his report has not been published. The DWP doesn’t publish any reports on the progress or otherwise of its IT-related projects.

So will the DWP ever be open about its IT-enabled projects and programmes? Or will it continue to deny problems, write-offs and mistakes until they are only too obvious to be denied?  

Since the 1980s the DWP has been writing off tens of millions on failed IT projects. The Department may continue to have costly failures while its officials can easily keep the problems detailed in internal reports  hidden until they have moved on.

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2 responses to “DWP drops claim Universal Credit is on time

  1. On 31 October 2013 the Guardian published Universal credit: £120m could be written off to rescue welfare reform, an article based on leaked documents.

    1. According to that article, sticking with the existing contractors was said in the leaked documents to be “not achievable within the preferred timescales”, “unrealistic” and “vulnerable to security flaws”. It was also said to offer poor value for money.

    2. Again according to that article, the other option – bring in the Government Digital Service to wave their agile magic wand – was said to be “unproven … at this scale” (21 million claimants), only 100 claimants would be on the newly written system by the summer of 2014 and until then ministers would have “no idea” if it would work.

    3. Yesterday’s Ministerial Statement says that DWP have decided to do both 1 and 2 above – they have chosen the unachievable, unrealistic, wasteful, unproven, no idea option, The Statement also says: “Rightly for a programme of this scale, the Government’s priority has been, and continues to be, its safe and secure delivery. This has already been demonstrated in our approach to date”.

    Null hypothesis: 1, 2 and 3 above add up to misfeasance in public office.

    How would anyone disprove that hypothesis?

    Like

  2. On 31 October 2013 the Guardian published Universal credit: £120m could be written off to rescue welfare reform, an article based on leaked documents.

    1. According to that article, sticking with the existing contractors was said in the leaked documents to be “not achievable within the preferred timescales”, “unrealistic” and “vulnerable to security flaws”. It was also said to offer poor value for money.

    2. Again according to that article, the other option – bring in the Government Digital Service to wave their agile magic wand – was said to be “unproven … at this scale” (21 million claimants), only 100 claimants would be on the newly written system by the summer of 2014 and until then ministers would have “no idea” if it would work.

    3. Yesterday’s Ministerial Statement says: “Rightly for a programme of this scale, the Government’s priority has been, and continues to be, its safe and secure delivery. This has already been demonstrated in our approach to date”.

    Null hypothesis: 1, 2 and 3 above add up to misfeasance in public office.

    How would anyone disprove that hypothesis?

    Like

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