NAO plans new report on Universal Credit – before the 2015 election

By Tony Collins

Days after the shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves declared that Labour, if elected, would pause the Universal Credit project and ask the National Audit Office to investigate its progress, the NAO has announced that it will publish a report on the scheme by the end of this Autumn.

The report will probably show whether the programme is on track after its “reset” last year, though IDS may dismiss any NAO criticisms as outdated, as he did after the NAO’s report on Universal Credit.

Much of the Parliamentary debate on whether the Universal Credit “twin-track” IT projects are making genuine progress is starved of fact, so the NAO’s report will be welcomed by all (except perhaps IDS).

The NAO says on its website:

“The NAO is undertaking a second value for money review of the Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit programme. This is a planned follow-up to our first review Universal Credit: early progress, published in September 2013.

“The review will examine the Department’s progress in delivering its twin-track approach of expanding the current service, and developing a digital service that will be capable of delivering the full scope of Universal Credit.”

Below are some of the NAO’s findings in its 2013 report. Its new report is likely to provide an update on whether these problems have been successfully addressed:

–  ineffective departmental oversight

– insufficient challenge of supplier-driven changes in costs

–  inadequate internal challenge of purchase decisions; ministers had insufficient information to assess the value for money of contracts before approving them.

–  insufficient review of contractor performance before making payments

– limited IT capability and ‘intelligent client’ function

–  throughout the programme the Department has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work

– the Department does not yet know to what extent its new IT systems will support national roll-out

– lack of an agreed, clearly defined and documented scope with each supplier setting out what they should provide.

– lack of transparency and challenge.

– a ‘fortress mentality’ within the programme.

– a ‘good news’ reporting culture that limited open discussion of risks and stifled challenge.

– pathfinder lacks a complete security solution.

– claimants cannot make changes in circumstances online

– need on pathfinders for manual work

– systems are inflexible or over-elaborate


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