By Tony Collins
At yesterday’s Work and Pensions Committee hearing Howard Shiplee, Director General for Universal Credit, confirmed what many have been saying: that UC will not be an entirely online process.
He said claimants will have to prove who they say they are. He didn’t say how but one suggestion is that claimants may have to produce documents at an interview, and may have to prove changes in circumstances.
This would make online security for UC – which has been a major sticking point – easier to design.
Shiplee told MPs yesterday:
“From a security point of view to have everything digital is not at this stage a sensible or appropriate solution.
“It will take some considerable time to get to a totally online system. In fact nobody is operating the types of system we are talking about which are disbursing large sums of money. Nobody is using a totally online approach. You have to prove who you are. You have to prove what you are doing when you change circumstance. If you want to open a bank account you have to go and present yourself.
“I have talked to a lot of financial institutions about this and that is exactly where they are coming from as well.”
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the committee, asked when it was decided that the original approach of “digital by default” was wrong – a “false promise that was never going to be delivered”.
“It is very difficult to talk about promises. There is nothing wrong with having aspirations. If people don’t have aspirations to achieve things there will be no progress. Perhaps that was an aspiration a little too far at a stage in time.”
Another MP, Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat, asked Shiplee about alleged interference of Universal Credit by the Cabinet Office (which is anxious to ensure that UC is not another government IT-related disaster). Lloyd asked if there is any truth in the suggestion that if the Cabinet Office doesn’t stop interfering Shiplee will quit.
Shiplee did not confirm or deny. He said:
“I cannot comment on tittle tattle that I haven’t heard. What I can comment on is that occasionally one has disagreements with people and one has to get on with things. I am charged with having a sense of urgency about these things. I make no excuse for that. There are no other issues that are holding me up…”
Asked by Lloyd on a scale of 1-10 how confident he is that UC will be delivered, and delivered in scale, with the huge volumes intended Shiplee replied:
“I have never been keen on one to tens so I will just give it to you straight. I believe UC can be delivered in the way that has been suggested.
“What we are talking about is automating a system in terms of technology but what in many ways is much more important is the culture change, the change in the way our business operates. All of these that tend to get completely ignored in these sorts of discussions.
“The technology is an enabler but many of the challenges we have not fully faced yet we will face as the business is reconfigured, as tens of thousands of our staff are retrained …there are a whole series of challenges. But can it be delivered? The answer is that there is no doubt in my mind.”
Will it be delivered?
“I believe it will be. It has to be delivered.”