Category Archives: Real-Time Information

Is IDS losing his cool over Universal Credit IT?

By Tony Collins

IDS was polite and calm, almost deferential, when he went before MPs of the Work and Pensions Committee in September 2012.  “Can I say it is always a privilege to be here?” he said.

At at Monday’s hearing of the same committee, though, he was at times tetchy, patronising and mildly bullying. “I don’t think this committee can run the department,” he replied when asked why he hadn’t told the committee in 2012 of problems with the Universal Credit IT project.

Several times he talked over the MP who was asking him questions, with the result neither could be clearly heard.

[If he’s like that at meetings with DWP officials would anyone want to tell him something he doesn’t want to hear? Perhaps his loss of cool on Monday reflected the baffling complexity, and rising costs, of the waterfall part of  Universal Credit’s  IT programme.]

IDS might also have been shaken by the absence of his most authoritative ally, Howard Shiplee, who has been off sick since shortly before Christmas.


Over a period of more than a year, the DWP and IDS fed the work and pensions committee good news about progress on the Universal Credit IT project. The truth didn’t surface until the National Audit Office published its report on UC in September 2013.

Unknown to the committee in 2012, the DWP was struggling at that time to set out how the detailed design of systems and processes would fit together and relate to the objectives of Universal Credit. This was raised repeatedly in 2012 by internal audit, the Major Projects Authority and a supplier-led review. The committee wasn’t told.

Hence Dame Anne Begg, the softly-spoken chairman, came to Monday’s meeting with a direct question. Why, when IDS came before the Work and Pensions committee in September 2012, did he make no mention of having commissioned a red team review into the Universal Credit project several months earlier.

“Because it was an internal review,” replied IDS. “We were looking the results of that and trying to take whatever decisions were necessary. It was about some of the issues that were going on in the UC team…”

Begg: “But why didn’t you tell us a review was going on?”

IDS: “I don’t tell the committee everything that is happening within the Department until we have reached a conclusion about what is actually happening.”

Begg: “It was an ideal opportunity when you appeared before us in September [2012] that you could have said there were concerns about what was happening with Universal Credit but at that session you were very bullish about how successful everything was.”

IDS: “I still remain very confident about how successful it will be. [Note a difference in tenses between the question and answer]. At the time we were working out how we would make the reset.”

Sir Humphrey

At IDS’s sided was Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the DWP, who seemed at times a parody of Sir Humphrey. [Animated in the delivery of some of his answers Devereux looked as if he was saying something interesting until you listened to the words.]

One MP asked Devereux why the DWP had given written evidence to the committee in 2012 that Universal Credit was on track when it wasn’t. Devereux said that UC was a large and complex programme. “You are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your forward plans … as you go along things change.” MPs were none the wiser.


Begg [to IDS]: Did you not think it appropriate that this scrutiny committee of the House of Commons, which oversees the work the department does, [should have been kept] informed about changes?

IDS: “With respect we did keep the Committee informed as and when we had clarified what we were actually doing and what we thought the problem was and where it existed and how you isolate it and what changes you made. I don’t for one moment agree in any way at all that we hid stuff. We knew we would be accountable to the committee and all would become public… I don’t think this committee can run the department.”

Begg pointed out that IDS had failed to mention a report of the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority in February 2013. That report had notified the DWP of flaws in UC governance, management and programme design – despite the same matters having been raised in previous MPA reports.

Begg:  “You gave oral evidence to us on 10 July [2012] … but you did not refer at that session to the critical Major Projects Authority report or the reset which had already taken place earlier that year.”

IDS: “I cannot remember what I said to the committee. I have no desire to look back.”

Begg said the DWP told the committee that the pathfinder projects demonstrated that the IT systems worked. “You cannot get any more definitive than that,” said Begg. IDS gave no clear answer.


Mid-way through the hearing, the mood of some of the exchanges was summed up by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams who told IDS:

“I cannot say with the strongest feeling my concern about the hubris that you have demonstrated in the tone to this committee. You haven’t explained, certainly to my own satisfaction – anybody who is watching will draw their own conclusions – you have not given any satisfactory explanation about how you have informed, or kept this committee informed, about the difficulties the department was experiencing.

“There have been obfuscation and smoke and mirrors even up to a few weeks before the report from the National Audit Office [in September 2013]. The memorandum that was released in August – this was clearly saying everything was fine and dandy. It is clearly not. I give you one more opportunity to answer, so you can explain to this committee, why such poor information is provided by your department.”

IDS replied: “I just don’t agree with you, and I don’t agree that we have done anything else but be open and honest about what the issues are, as and when they have been identified and what we would do about them as and when we have made our decisions about them…


“When we found something wrong we went and sorted it out. As we sorted it out we made clear direction about that, and eventually through the NAO, the PAC [Public Accounts Committee and the [Work and Pensions] committee.

“I think we have been pretty open about it. I don’t think there’s anything more. In fact in a sense we are going round and round in circles here at this committee hearing at the moment.”

Begg:  “We are not convinced you have got it sorted out.”


Monday’s hearing shows how ministers and officials justify the hiding of reports on costly IT-enabled projects that are going wrong. IDS didn’t even tell MPs in July 2013 that the Major Projects Authority had four months earlier recommended an immediate pause in the programme.

Most worrying of all, officials and IDS seem content that the DWP gave the work and pensions committee – in September 2012 and July 2013 – a good news story on the state of the Universal Credit IT project while truth about the project’s problems stayed hidden.

IDS suggested it was not necessary to tell MPs about reports until ministers have “reached a conclusion about what is actually happening” That may be never.

It’s time for public accounts and work and pensions MPs to insist on seeing Major Projects Authority reviews, and other reports, on the progress or otherwise of big government IT-enabled programme such as UC. MPs should not have to wait for an NAO report to get the truth.

Governments, whatever their hue, will always refuse to publish these reports contemporaneously, such is the will of departmental heads. They have been refusing to publish the reports for more than 20 years.

But if MPs keep insisting with an unbreakable tenacity on their publication  – and for publication before they are out of date – it may eventually happen, and gone will be the power of ministers and officials to mislead MPs on the state of big IT-enabled programmes.

Until publication happens, is there much point in MPs questioning IDS or his officials on the UC IT programme? They will get only the public relations version of the truth.


Top 5 posts on this site in last 12 months

Below are the top 5 most viewed posts of 2013.  Of other posts the most viewed includes “What exactly is HMRC paying Capgemini billions for?” and “Somerset County Council settles IBM dispute – who wins?“.

1) Big IT suppliers and their Whitehall “hostages

Mark Thompson is a senior lecturer in information systems at Cambridge Judge Business School, ICT futures advisor to the Cabinet Office and strategy director at consultancy Methods.

Last month he said in a Guardian comment that central government departments are “increasingly being held hostage by a handful of huge, often overseas, suppliers of customised all-or-nothing IT systems”.

Some senior officials are happy to be held captive.

“Unfortunately, hostage and hostage taker have become closely aligned in Stockholm-syndrome fashion.

“Many people in the public sector now design, procure, manage and evaluate these IT systems and ignore the exploitative nature of the relationship,” said Thompson.

The Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages bond with their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

This month the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued  a pre-tender notice for Oracle ERP systems. Worth between £250m and £750m, the framework will be open to all central government departments, arms length bodies and agencies and will replace the current “Prism” contract with Capgemini.

It’s an old-style centralised framework that, says Chris Chant, former Executive Director at the Cabinet Office who was its head of G-Cloud, will have Oracle popping champagne corks.

2) Natwest/RBS – what went wrong?

Outsourcing to India and losing IBM mainframe skills in the process? The failure of CA-7 batch scheduling software which had a knock-on effect on multiple feeder systems?

As RBS continues to try and clear the backlog from last week’s crash during a software upgrade, many in the IT industry are asking how it could have happened.

3) Another Universal Credit leader stands down

Universal Credit’s Programme Director, Hilary Reynolds, has stood down after only four months in post. The Department for Work and Pensions says she has been replaced by the interim head of Universal Credit David Pitchford.

Last month the DWP said Pitchford was temporarily leading Universal Credit following the death of Philip Langsdale at Christmas. In November 2012 the DWP confirmed that the then Programme Director for UC, Malcolm Whitehouse, was stepping down – to be replaced by Hilary Reynolds. Steve Dover,  the DWP’s Corporate Director, Universal Credit Programme Business, has also been replaced.

4) The “best implementation of Cerner Millennium yet”?

Edward Donald, the chief executive of Reading-based Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, is reported in the trust’s latest published board papers as saying that a Cerner go-live has been relatively successful.

“The Chief Executive emphasised that, despite these challenges, the ‘go-live’ at the Trust had been more successful than in other Cerner Millennium sites.”

A similar, stronger message appeared was in a separate board paper which was released under FOI.  Royal Berkshire’s EPR [electronic patient record] Executive Governance Committee minutes said:

“… the Committee noted that the Trust’s launch had been considered to be the best implementation of Cerner Millennium yet and that despite staff misgivings, the project was progressing well. This positive message should also be disseminated…”

Royal Berkshire went live in June 2012 with an implementation of Cerner outside the NPfIT.  In mid-2009, the trust signed with University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre to deliver Millennium.

Not everything has gone well – which raises questions, if this was the best Cerner implementation yet,  of what others were like.

5) Universal Credit – the ace up Duncan Smith’s sleeve?

Some people, including those in the know, suspect  Universal Credit will be a failed IT-based project, among them Francis Maude. As Cabinet Office minister Maude is ultimately responsible for the Major Projects Authority which has the job, among other things, of averting major project failures.

But Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP secretary of state, has an ace up his sleeve: the initial go-live of Universal Credit is so limited in scope that claims could be managed by hand, at least in part.

The DWP’s FAQs suggest that Universal Credit will handle, in its first phase due to start in October 2013, only new claims  – and only those from the unemployed.  Under such a light load the system is unlikely to fail, as any particularly complicated claims could managed clerically.


Universal Credit: more IT uncertainties

By Tony Collins

Shortly after IDS was in the House of Commons yesterday defending his handling of the Universal Credit project – taking an all is well approach – the National Audit Office issued a report that drew attention to the scheme’s uncertainties, write-offs on IT so far of £41.3m, and the five-year depreciation of a further £91m spend on IT that may not be used after the migration from legacy, or transitional, UC systems to in a new “digital” solution.

The legacy Universal Credit  IT infrastructure is a blend of existing DWP IT and technology adapted to UC.

The DWP had originally expected to depreciate the £91m over 15 years but, suggests the NAO, the legacy Universal Credit IT infrastructure may be of little use after 2017/2018.   

Says the NAO:

“…  the underlying issue [is] that the Department has spent £91.0 million on assets that will only support a limited service for 5 years, with clear consequences for public value.”

On what the NAO report calls the “longer-term programme uncertainties” it says that the “overall cost of developing assets to support Universal Credit is subject to considerable uncertainty”.

It adds:

“The Department acknowledges  … that there is uncertainty over the useful economic life of the existing Universal Credit software pending the development of the alternative digital solution and uncertainty over whether Universal Credit claimants will be able to migrate from the current IT infrastructure to the new digital solution by December 2017.”

The NAO’s report on the DWP’s 2012/2013 accounts also notes the uncertainties with the new digital solution. Says the NAO:

“At this early stage in its development, there are uncertainties over the exact nature of the digital solution, and in particular:

– How it will work;

– When it will be ready;

– How much it will cost; and

– Who will do the work to develop and build it.

A Ministerial Oversight Group has approved a spend of between £25m and £32m on the new digital UC solution up to November 2014. DWP officials and suppliers plan to build a core digital service that will deliver to 100 people by then, after which it will assess the results of that work and consider whether to extend the service to increasing numbers.

The NAO suggests that some of the money spent on the new digital solution may also end up being written off.  Says its report:

“As the Department develops the digital solution, so it will start to recognise some of the costs incurred as assets. Without clear and effective management, in the future the Department may also find it needs to impair some of these new digital assets.”

At a hearing of the Work and Pensions Committee on Monday Iain Duncan Smith depicted the write-off of £40m on UC software code so far as normal for any large organisation in the private or public sector that embarks on a major software-based programme.  IDS said that private sector organisations typically write off a third of the money spent on software on a large project. About £120m has been spent on writing UC software code so far.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO,refers in his report to the “considerable sums that the Department is proposing to invest in a programme where there are significant levels of technical, cost and timetable uncertainty”.

He adds:

“I reiterate both the conclusion and recommendations from my report in September. The Department has to date not achieved value for the money it has incurred in the development of Universal Credit, and to do so in future it will need to learn the lessons of past failures …”

In a short debate on UC in the House of Commons yesterday Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions secretary, suggested Iain Duncan Smith was in denial about being in denial.  She put points to him he did not answer directly.

She said that IDS had told the House of Commons on 5 September 2013 that UC will be delivered in time and on budget. On 14 October IDS made the same claim. Reeves said:

“How on earth can this be on time when in November 2011 he [IDS] said:  ‘All new applications for existing benefits and credits will be entirely phased out by April 2014.’

“We have now learned that this milestone will only be reached in 2016. Will the secretary of state confirm that this is a delay of 2 years? … How can the secretary of state say that Universal Credit will be on budget when even by his own admission £40.1m is being written off on IT [software code]? What budget heading was that under?”

Reeves said IDS also revealed on Monday that another £90m will be written off by 2018. She added:

“ …The underlying problem is surely that the secretary of state has not resolved key policy decisions before spending hundreds of millions of pounds on an IT system… the secretary of state is in denial. Doubtless he’ll deny he is in denial….

IDS replied:

“ I said all along and I repeat: this programme essentially [jeers] is going to be on time. By 2017 some 6.5m people will be on the programme receiving benefits.”

He added that UC will roll out without damaging a single person. “The waste we inherited was the waste of people who didn’t listen, rushed programmes and implementing them badly.”

Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said that IDS promised UC would be digital by default. “It isn’t,” she said.

“He promised that all new claims would be on UC by May 2014. They won’t…  So why should anyone believe him when he says that delivery of UC is now on track?”

IDS replied: “The proof of this will be as we roll it out…”


IDS is doing what he has to do: defend the UC project at all costs; and the NAO is doing what it needs to do: highlight the uncertainties and wasted spending.  If IDS admits to his doubts and concerns the opposition will jump on him. At least he is not being kept in the dark any longer by his senior civil servants.  He has his own reliable information – via Howard Shiplee – and from the NAO.  In 2011 he commissioned his own independent “red team” review which led to the pilot Pathfinder projects.

But the uncertainties highlighted by the NAO’s report today could be said to tacitly confirm that the transfer of all relevant claimants to UC project is unlikely to be complete before 2019/2020 at the earliest.  That’s probably not something anyone in government could own up to before the 2015 general election.

And even his advisers may not tell IDS that big government IT projects can be defined by the exceptions. IDS told MPs yesterday that Pathfinder projects indicated that 90% of people are claiming universal credit online and 78% are confident about their ability to budget with monthly payments. That’s 10% who don’t claim online and 22% who may not be able to manage with monthly payments. Will the high number of exceptions prove a show-stopper?

There’s a long way to go before officials and ministers can have confidence in UC IT. But, unlike the NPfIT which had little support in the NHS, most of those involved in the UC project want it work. That could make all the difference. 

Will Universal Credit be complete by 2020?

By Tony Collins


Much of what Iain Duncan Smith said at the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday made sense. In essence the DWP’s plan is to delay putting most of the  claimants onto the Universal Credit system until the technology is proven to work.

But there is little evidence it will work at scale, handling reliably and accurately millions of claimants and complex cases. It emerged yesterday that the DWP has still not yet agreed with suppliers a specification for the UC systems, and the latest business case has yet to be approved. How can anyone say on the basis of the limited work so far that the technology will work?

And Howard Shiplee,  Director General of Universal Credit, made the point yesterday that the technology is only part of the story. For UC to work there have to be changes in culture, operational procedures within the DWP and the retraining of tens of thousands of staff.

IDS is doing what various sets of ministers and officials did during the distended failure of the NHS’s £11bn computer programme, the National Programme for IT [NPfIT]: in assuring Parliament all was well they always used the future tense. The programme “will” give everyone in England an electronic patient record. But nothing was delivered that provided evidence the promises would be fulfilled. It took a new government to admit the NPfIT was a failure.

UC differs from the NPfIT in a crucial way. The NPfIT did not need to work. It was conceived at the top without support from the NHS. Many hospitals didn’t want centrally-bought IT foisted on them. The NPfIT was wanted, in the main, by a small number of politicians, officials and big suppliers. UC is needed and wanted. Simplifying the horrifying complex benefit systems has all-party support. Shiplee is right when he says UC has to work. But he didn’t yesterday commit himself to a timeframe.

The last major benefits computerisation project – called “Operational Strategy” – took about 10 years to finish. It did not achieve the promised financial benefits and benefit systems were not combined as originally intended but, in the end, the technology worked well for its time.

If UC does work there’s every reason to believe it will be in a similar timeframe to Operational Strategy: about 10 years. But could IDS keep his job while saying UC will be fully delivered in 2020 or beyond? I doubt it.

DWP’s Universal Credit PR line – all is now well

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has submitted a statement to the Work and Pensions Committee, ahead of its hearing this afternoon on Universal Credit, that indicates all is now well with the scheme.

At the hearing today MPs will put questions to Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, Howard Shiplee, Universal Credit Director General, and Mike Driver, Finance Director General.

MPs on the committee tend to ask gentle questions of Duncan Smith who is expected to say little or nothing negative about the current state of the scheme. His department’s statement to the committee says that the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts produced reports on Universal Credit that were“entirely historical”. 

Under the  new leadership of Shiplee, the Department had “already taken comprehensive action to address issues subsequently cited in both the NAO and PAC reports, including strengthening governance, improving supplier management and tightening financial controls”.

About 6,000 “new” computers in Jobcentres are being installed so that claimants can look and apply for jobs online, as well as make online claims.

“From October we started implementing Digital Jobcentres, beginning in Hammersmith. The Department will continue to roll this out across the whole Jobcentre Plus network, with all sites converted by October 2014.”

The DWP says that in the trials so far 90% of claims were being made online, “with the majority of these completing their application at the first attempt”.

The DWP will “further develop the work started by the Government
Digital Services to test and implement an enhanced online digital service”.

It adds: “The current planning assumption is that the Universal Credit service will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy caseload moving to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017.

“Final decisions on these elements of the programme will be informed by the
development of the enhanced digital solution.”


The DWP and particularly IDS appear locked into the “good news” culture that the health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned about  in the light of the Francis report’s criticism of a “lack of candour” in the NHS.

Before most of the big IT-related disasters in central government, the NPfIT for instance, sets of ministers and senior civil servants praised progress of the projects and dismissed Parliamentary reports as historical.

It’s to IDS’s credit that he has conceded that the 2017 deadline for all claimants to be on Universal Credit will not be met. He didn’t have to admit this. By 2017 IDS may have retired from politics for all we know. But still his optimism may be grossly misplaced.

The signs are that all claimants will not on UC before 2019 at the earliest – and that is subject to the resolution of numerous IT and business practice issues. The NAO report “Universal Credit: early progress” hinted at some of them.

Indeed the NAO revealed that:

“The Department does not yet know to what extent its new IT systems will
support national roll-out.” The signs are the DWP still doesn’t know – and may not know for several years.

The last big benefits computerisation project – Operational Strategy – took about 10 years to complete. It did not achieve the promised financial benefits and benefit systems were not integrated as originally intended but the technology worked well in the end.

There is every reason to believe that the UC  project will have a similar roll-out timeframe. But will IDS ever discuss all the current uncertainties and shortcomings with UC technology?

Did DWP mislead MPs and media over Universal Credit?

By T0ny Collins

Today’s report of the all-party Public Accounts Committee “Universal Credit: early progress” goes beyond criticisms of the scheme in a National Audit Office report of the same name on 5 September 2013.

Public Accounts MPs say the Department for Work and Pensions gave “misleading interviews to the press regarding progress after it became aware of difficulties with the programme”.

And as recently as July 2013 the “Department denied that there were problems with the programme’s IT when it gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee”.

These criticisms are against a background of the DWP’s refusal to publish any of the many internal and external reports the department has commissioned on the project’s progress, problems and challenges since 2011.

The Times today says that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and members of his parliamentary team are “understood to have approached at least three Tory MPs on the cross-party [Public Accounts] committee to ask them to ensure that Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, was singled out for censure”.  In the end there was only limited criticism in the PAC report of Devereux – under his formal title of “Accounting Officer”.


If the DWP has been misleading the press, giving incorrect evidence to Parliament, and keeping secret its reports on the problems and challenges facing one of the government’s most important IT-based programmes – all of which seem to be the case – is it an institution that regards itself as uniquely outside the democratic process?

On big IT projects, officials are not motivated by money and concern for their jobs as are private sector boards of directors. When a private company gets it wrong and loses tens of millions on a project, the share price may fall, individual bonuses may be hit, and jobs, including the CEO’s, may be at risk.

In the public sector getting it wrong rarely has any implications for officials. They have only the threat of departmental embarrassment as a deterrent to getting it wrong. But they need not fear even embarrassment if they can mislead the press and Parliament and keep secret all their internal and external reports.

If a lack of transparency, culture of denial, and the misleading of Parliament continue to characterize big risky IT-based ventures in central government, one has to ask whether Whitehall is congenitally ill-suited to running such programmes.

The Public Accounts Committee warned in a report in 1984 about the risks of large public sector computer programmes. That report came after a series of project disasters.

So what has been learned in the last 30 years – other than that central departments are poorly equipped managerially – or democratically – to handle big IT-based programmes and projects?

These are some of the Public Accounts Committee’s findings:

MPs try to be positive

“We believe that meeting any specific timetable is less important than delivering the programme successfully. There is still the potential for Universal Credit to deliver significant benefits, but there is no clarity yet on the amount of savings it will achieve.”

Culture of denial

“The programme had also developed a flawed culture of reporting good news and denying that problems had emerged. This culture resulted from the desire of senior staff within the programme to show publically that they were able to push the programme forward, at the expense of ensuring that adequate controls were in place or listening to concerns raised about its delivery.

“Although the Department has tried to tackle this culture, it gave misleading interviews to the press regarding progress after it became aware of difficulties with the programme, and as recently as July 2013 the Department denied that there were problems with the programme’s IT when it gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee.”

Shocking absence of control over suppliers

“There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers with the Department neglecting to implement basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure…

“The Department recognises its supplier management has been weak, risking value for money.  Four main suppliers – Accenture, IBM, Hewlett Packard and British Telecom – have provided IT systems for Universal Credit, and by March 2013 the Department had paid them £265m out of the £303m spent with suppliers on IT systems.

“In February 2013 the Major Projects Authority found no evidence of the Department actively managing its supplier contracts, resulting in suppliers being out of control and financial controls not being in place.  The Department has yet to provide a comprehensive assessment of how much of this expenditure has proved nugatory, although the Major Projects Authority believes it will be a substantial figure running into hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Lack of oversight

The lack of oversight allowed the Department’s Universal Credit team to become isolated and defensive, undermining its ability to recognise the size of the problems the programme faced and to be candid when reporting progress…

“Oversight has been characterised by a failure to understand properly the nature and enormity of the task, a failure to monitor and challenge progress regularly, and a failure to intervene promptly when problems arose.

“Senior managers only became aware of problems through ad hoc reviews, mostly conducted by external reviewers, as inadequate management information and reporting arrangements had not alerted them that things were amiss.

“Given its huge importance to the Department, the Accounting Officer [Robert Devereux] and his team should have been more alert to identifying and acting on early warning signs that things were going wrong with the programme

Blinkered culture remains?

“Risk was not well managed and the divergence between planned and actual progress could and should have been spotted and acted upon earlier. The Department only reported good news and denied the problems that had emerged. The risk of a similarly blinkered culture remains as the Department will be working to tight timescales to get the programme back on track.”

Problems hidden

“It is extremely disappointing that the litany of problems in the Universal Credit Programme were often hidden by a culture prevalent in the Department which promoted only the telling of ‘good news’.

“For example, officials were aware that a critical report highlighting many of these issues had been discussed internally for months. Indeed, there are real doubts over when officials became aware of these problems and it is difficult to conceive, based on the evidence we were presented with, that officials within the Department did not know of them before July 2012.”

Shocking absence of financial and other controls

“There has been a shocking absence of financial and other internal controls and we are not yet convinced that the Department has robust plans to overcome the problems that have impeded progress.”

Did the DWP do anything well?

“The Department initially adopted a piecemeal approach to delivering the programme.

“In 2011 it identified over a hundred different types of users for Universal Credit, and initially sought to design IT solutions for each set of circumstances individually. It was only in early 2012 that the Department decided to stand back and try to establish a clearer picture of what the programme’s overall shape might look like.

“During the summer of 2012 the Department became aware of the problems that Universal Credit faced. It was first alerted by concerns raised in a supplier-led review, commissioned by the Secretary of State, which reported in July.

“The Department subsequently established that the programme’s progress was stalling because there were a number of unresolved issues which had become intractable, particularly relating to the level of security needed for identity assurance and protection against fraud and error and cyber-attack.

“The Department had been previously unaware of the programme’s difficulties because its internal lines of monitoring, intervention and defence, intended to identify and mitigate such problems, were not working properly. Governance arrangements were not remotely adequate, and the Accounting Officer [Robert Devereux] discussed progress with the head of the Universal Credit programme only every two or three weeks.

“The Department had inadequate performance information to scrutinise and challenge the programme’s reports of its progress, so internal reporting arrangements did not flag up that things were amiss. The Department’s corporate finance undertook insufficient work to ensure there was an appropriate control environment in place, and the Department’s process for ministers to sign-off higher-value contracts was weak.

“The Department’s senior management had relied on ad hoc reviews, mostly conducted by external reviewers, which only provided an occasional snapshot of the programme, instead of ensuring effective internal systems were in place to monitor and challenge progress. However, during 2012 the problems surfaced more clearly as the Universal Credit team became unable to respond to recommendations made by such reviews.”

Will Universal Credit ever work?

“The Department remains uncertain about key details of its final plans. It does not know how much can be delivered online, when this will be available, and what activities will continue to require face-to-face meetings.

“ The Department also does not know what the final cost of the IT will be, or the savings the programme is expected to deliver. Nor does it know when it will close down the other benefits that Universal Credit will replace.”

The Department has a target of enrolling 184,000 claimants on Universal Credit by April 2014 and has launched limited pilot schemes.”

Says the PAC report: “The current rate of progress is significantly below target, however. Only around 2,500 claimants were registered at the time of our hearing in September, and the Department was unwilling to speculate what number will be enrolled by next April.”

In a steady state Universal Credit is expected to deal with 10 million people in about 7.5 million households, making 1.6 million changes in circumstances each month.

Security versus usability

“The Department is aware that the system must include suitable security arrangements if Universal Credit is to operate effectively and deliver its intended benefits.  However, the Department has not yet finalised such a solution, and was unable to say when two key components – those countering fraud and error and confirming claimants’ identity- would be completed.

“The Department has found it particularly hard to establish the right balance between security and usability. The development of an effective security system has been hindered by security not being integral to the design of IT components from the outset, but instead being retro-fitted into systems, and suppliers working on different assumptions and to different standards. To address this, the Department told us it has now brought security issues together in one place, with one senior official responsible for overseeing this part of the programme.”

DWP response to PAC report

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the BBC

“This report doesn’t take into account our new leadership team, or our progress on delivery,” it said. “We have already taken comprehensive action including strengthening governance, supplier management and financial controls.”

The DWP said it did not accept “the write-off figure quoted by the committee” and expected it to be substantially less”.

A spokesman for Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that he had “every confidence” in the team now running the programme, including Mr Devereux – whose position  some newspapers have suggested is under threat.

“Both the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee acknowledged a fortress mentality within the Universal Credit programme,” he said.

“Iain was clear back in the summer about how he and the permanent secretary took action to fix those problems.”

PAC report: Universal Credit: early progress

National Audit Office report: Universal Credit: early progress

Why does truth on Universal Credit emerge only now?

By Tony Collins

For nearly a year the Department for Work and Pensions, its ministers and senior officials, have told Parliament that Universal Credit IT is on track and on budget.

Together with DWP press officers, they have criticised parts of the media and some MPs for suggesting otherwise.

Now the truth can be held back no longer: the National Audit Office is expected tomorrow to report on UC’s problems. Ahead of that report’s publication, and perhaps to take the sting out of it, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has allowed Howard Shiplee, the latest DWP lead on delivery of UC, to own up to the project’s difficulties.

IDS has given permission for Shiplee to write an article for the Telegraph on the UC project. Every word is  likely to have been checked by senior DWP communications officers.

It’s the first time anyone on the UC project has publicly acknowledged the project’s difficulties though, as with nearly every government response to critical NAO reports, the administration depicts the problems as in the past. Shiplee’s article says

“… it’s also clear to me there were examples of poor project management in the past, a lack of transparency where the focus was too much on what was going well and not enough on what wasn’t and with suppliers not managed as they should have been.

“There is no doubt there have been missteps along the way. But we’ve put that right…

“I’m not in the business of making excuses, and I think it’s always important to acknowledge in any project where things may have gone wrong in order to ensure we learn as we go forward.

“To that end, the key decision taken by the Secretary of State to reset the programme to ensure its delivery on time and within budget has been critical.

“When David Pitchford arrived from the Major Projects Authority earlier this year, at the Secretary of State’s request, he began this process in line with those twin objectives…

“I’ve also ensured that as a programme we have a tight grip on our spending, and I have put in place a post for a new Director who will be dedicated to ensuring that suppliers deliver value for money. I am confident we are now back on course and the challenges are being handled.”

Parliament has a right to ask why nearly every central government IT project that goes wrong – whatever the government in power – is preceded for months and sometimes years in the case of the NPfIT by public denials.

From the over-budget and fragmented Operational Strategy project for welfare benefits in the 1980s, to the repeatedly delayed and over budget air traffic control IT at the New En Route Centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, and the abandoned Post Office “Pathway” project in the 1990s, to the failed National Programme for IT – NPfIT –  in the NHS in the last decade, ministers and senior officials were telling Parliament that all was well and that the project’s critics were misinformed. Until the facts became only too obvious to be denied any longer.

These are some of the reassurances ministers and DWP officials have been giving Parliament and the media about the UC project. None of their statements has given a hint of the  “missteps along the way” that Shiplee’s article refers to now.

House of Commons, 20 May 2013

Universal Credit (IT System)

Clive Betts (Lab): What assessment he [the secretary of state for work and pensions] has made of the preparedness of the universal credit IT delivery system.

Iain Duncan Smith: The IT system to support the pathfinder roll-out from April 2013 is up and running…

Betts: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he confirm that three of the pathfinders are not going ahead precisely because the computer system is not ready? …

Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman is fundamentally wrong. All the pathfinders are going ahead. The IT system is but a part of that, and goes ahead in one of the pathfinders. The other three are already testing all the other aspects of universal credit and in July will, essentially, themselves roll out the remainder of the pathfinder, and more than 7,000 people will be engaged in it. All that nonsense the hon. Gentleman has just said is completely untrue.”


BBC – 9 Sept 2012

 “A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Liam Byrne [Labour] is quite simply wrong. Universal Credit is on track and on budget. To suggest anything else is incorrect.”


Iain Duncan Smith, House of Commons, 20 May 2013

“This [Universal Credit] system is a success. We have four years to roll it out, we are rolling it out now, we will continue the roll-out nationwide and we will have a system that works—and one that works because we have tested it properly.”

Howard Shiplee – FT July 2013

“… Howard Shiplee, who has led UC since May, denied claims from MPs that the original IT had been ‘dumped’ because it had not delivered. ‘The existing systems that we have are working, and working effectively,’ he said. He added, however, that he had set aside 100 days ‘not to stop the programme, but to reflect on where we’ve got to and start to look at the entire total plan’.”


DWP spokesperson 16 August 2013

“… a DWP spokesperson said: “The IT supporting Universal Credit is working well and the vast majority of people are claiming online.”


Howard Shiplee Work and Pensions Committee, House of Commons, 10 July 2013.

“…The pathfinder, first of all, has demonstrated that the IT systems work…”

Mark Hoban, DWP minister, House of Commons, 6 March 2013.

The shadow Secretary of State has been touting this story for months. No it has been longer than that. The last outing was in today’s Guardian. I want to make it clear that nobody has walked off the project; all the contractors are in place and the project is on schedule to be delivered at the end of April. Now, if he thinks the idea is good in theory, it is about time he supported it. It is working and the contractors are in place, doing the job and ensuring that the pilots will be up and running at the end of April.”

[Hoban’s response was to a question on whether personnel or contractors at Accenture, Atos Origin, Oracle, Red Hat, CACI or IBM UK had been stepped down, or in any way notified by the Department, that they were to suspend work on Universal Credit. The main IT contractors for UC are Accenture, Hewlett Packard and BT plus input from Agile specialists Emergn. The DWP awarded UC IT contracts without any specific open competitive tender.]


On this site various posts have questioned whether Iain Duncan Smith has been getting the whole truth on the state of the UC IT project. He repeatedly went before MPs of the Work and Pensions Committee and gave such confident reassurances on the state of the UC project that it was difficult to believe that he knew what was really going on.

What we now know about the UC project’s “missteps along the way” shows, if nothing else, how gullible ministers are in believing their officials.

It is hard or impossible to believe that officials would lie but it is probable they would tell their ministers what they want to hear – and IDS has been in no mood to hear about problems.

Every big IT-based project in government that is failing ends up in a pantomime. From the back of the auditorium the media and MPs shout out when they receive leaks about problems. “Look behind you – there’s chaos,” they call out to departmental ministers and officials who don’t look behind them and reply “Oh no there isn’t!”

One reason this pantomime is repeated over decades is that independent reports on the progress or otherwise on big IT-based projects and programmes in central government are kept under departmental lock and key.  Even FOI requests for the keys consistently fail

So it’s usual for ministers and officials to answer media and Parliamentary questions about departmental projects without fear of authoritative contradiction.

Until the NAO is in imminent danger of publishing  a revealing report.

Perhaps it’s a lack of openness and accountability that contributes to IT-enabled change projects in central government going seriously awry in the first place.

With openness would come early and public recognition of a scheme that’s too ambitious to be implementable. With secrecy and the gung-ho optimism that seems to pervade projects like Universal Credit many on the project pretend to each other and perhaps even themselves that it’s all doable, while money continues to be thrown away.

When will the pantomime of misinformation and long-delayed revelation stop? Perhaps when Whitehall becomes genuinely open and accountable on the progress or otherwise of its IT-enabled projects. In other words: never.

Thank you to David Moss for drawing my attention to Howard Shiplee’s article in the Telegraph.

Time for truth on Universal Credit

Millions of pounds worth of secret DWP reports

Is HMRC’s RTI project really a success?

By Tony Collins

On  Eddie Mair’s “PM” programme on R4, I suggested that HMRC’s real-time information project was not the failure many had expected it to be.

“Even some hawk-eyed critics of government IT projects like journalist Tony Collins think that HMRC may have something of a success on its hands,” said BBC reporter Chris Vallance who produced the RTI item.

I was quoted as saying that many had expected RTI to become another government IT disaster. “But given that there are millions of PAYE employees who are on the system at the moment, if there were any major difficulties we’d expect to have seen them by now.”

Now an HMRC expert has questioned whether my comments were justified. He says parts of RTI are in chaos. He doesn’t want to be named. He writes:

“The RTI system was intended to report on a weekly or monthly basis the same information as had previously been reported by employers on an annual basis. Although details of pay and tax would be forwarded to HMRC far more frequently the same core logic applied. Details of the statutory deductions by the employer would have to be reconciled with payments made, and details of the income and tax paid recorded against the employee’s PAYE record.

“What appears to have happened is that HMRC has designed a system that takes details of employees’ earned or pension income, and statutory PAYE deductions, and then makes various illogical assumptions.

“For instance it would appear that where an employee receives no earnings in a particular pay period, the RTI system assumes that no information is “transmitted” for this employee, indicating that the employee has “left the employment”.

“Similarly where an employer undertakes a re-order of the pay identities (codes on the payroll system called Works Numbers that identify employees), the fact that payroll information is transmitted to HMRC with a Works Number different to that used previously triggers an assumption that the employee has two employments, with the same employer.

“This has the consequence of allowing the NPS (New PAYE Computer System – costing in excess of £400 million) to assume that the employee’s estimated income for the tax year has doubled. The NPS then looks to see if the employee has any part-time or other employment, and in many cases it changes the PAYE code number of these part-time employments from Basic Rate, which deducts tax at 20%, to Code D0, which deducts tax at 40%. All because of an incorrect and invalid assumption.

“Similarly, this failure to understand how PAYE and payroll interact has lead to the situation where an employee who leaves an employment that has attracted a PAYE coding deduction for Car Benefit in Kind and starts another Employment, has the PAYE Coding Deduction removed. The fact that the new employment may well involve a company car is completely ignored, with the result that the employee is more than likely to have a large underpayment of income tax at the year end, despite being on PAYE.

“This failure to understand the basic operation and logic of PAYE would appear to be due to that fact that HMRC has been influenced by those who have an understanding of data flows and cash transfers. The rush to modernise PAYE and move away from “a 1940’s system” has completely omitted the fact that basic operations for employments, tax and NI deductions and the accountability of these remains exactly the same, even if the calculations are undertaken electronically rather than with a quill pen and large ledger book.

“The old PAYE system had as part of its reporting system two components: the forms P14 detailing each individual’s pay, tax etc. and a summary of all employees information, the form P35. The P14 passed information to the NPS system and the P35 information was passed to the accounts computer systems. This allowed HMRC to determine the income of the employee and calculate if sufficient income tax etc had been paid. It also allowed HMRC to match the figure of tax / NIC due and payable on the P35 with the amount actually received from the employer. RTI has failed to comply with this basic logic and chaos is ensuing, to the extent that the National Audit Office recently commented

 ‘The financial and accounting systems supporting RTI are not yet fully accredited. Financial accreditation is a formal requirement of HMRC’s Change Programme and provides assurance that any new systems are acceptable for accounting and financial control purposes. The RTI systems went live on the basis that action would be taken to resolve identified financial design issues by 31 October 2013.

‘These issues do not affect an employer’s ability to submit data to HMRC but do weaken HMRC’s ability to produce and report financial information on PAYE. HMRC is currently undertaking work to understand the impact of these issues and how best to address them.’

“Why the RTI system was not designed in the same logical manner is of great concern.

“The system failures that are occurring are not due to computer components or programs not being fit for purpose. Indeed the processing of the PAYE data streamed to HMRC as a result of the RTI system could reasonably be compared to any other large commercial organisation, albeit that the NAO has concerns over the fall-back planning HMRC has in place should there be any hardware failures and commented

‘The resilience needed to maintain the RTI service if there is a major technical failure is not in place. Online and time-sensitive system implementations are usually developed with formal technical resilience and disaster recovery capability.

‘HMRC chose not to pay for full resilience because of the cost implications and because PAYE could be operated in an emergency without RTI. However, although RTI has the potential to be used by other government departments, the lack of full resilience may inhibit its use in areas of activity where a temporary disruption to service cannot be tolerated.

‘Data submissions can be held temporarily in a queue but this would not provide continuity of service in the event of a catastrophic failure. The RTI service failing at a critical processing time could increase the volume of customer communications and lead to more effort for employers.’

“The RTI system is a very clear example of basic failures to properly prepare a Business Analysis Requirement for a system which in essence does no more that increase the number of times payroll information is passed to HMRC. Claims for the reinvention of PAYE for the 21st Century are as invalid as the claim that the ability to write has been done away with due to email and electronic communication. There has been a flawed reliance on the thoughts and views of those who have little or no experience in PAYE or payroll.”

On the PM programme, Ruth Owen, Director General of PersonalTax at HMRC, accepted that all was not perfect. She said

“We have had over 1.4 million PAYE schemes come into Real-Time Information [each PAYE scheme may have many employees on it] and that exceeds our expectations at this point in the year. But there’s still more to do. We have got to get everybody on and there are still people who need our help to get on.”

She added: “We have had a small number of difficult issues… We have had issues where people have got the wrong tax codes.”

Owen said the links between RTI and Universal Credit were “going well” but conceded that there have been only a tiny number of UC claimants so far.

“We have had around 100 claimants who we have helped DWP identify income stream data for. So it’s going to plan at the moment.”

Chris Vallance concluded the item by saying that some of the largest employers have yet to be added to RTI. “It’s only when it works at scale that we will really know how good real-time information really is,” he said.

Update: Chartered accountant Baker Tilly says on its website  that thousands of people have been issued wrong tax codes as a result of RTI-related problems. 

Audio of PM programme item on RTI – 4 July 2013 (approx 5 mins)

Report on status of big Gov’t projects to be published at last

By Tony Collins

The Telegraph reports that the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority is about to publish its first annual report – and it will reveal the status of schemes that include Universal Credit, says the article.

The Cabinet Office said in 2011 that the MPA’s annual report would be published by the end of December that year. In 2012 Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, told the Public Accounts Committee’s Conservative MP Richard Bacon that the MPA’s annual report would be published in June 2012.

But senior departmental  civil servants have objected repeatedly to the red-amber-green “traffic light” status of projects being published, which contradicts the wishes of Kerslake and Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister.

One reason for the delay in publishing the MPA annual report is that Maude and Kerslake have been weighing objections to the reporting of the red-amber-green status against the need for departmental cooperation to implement civil service reforms.

From the Telegraph article it appears that Maude has persuaded (or forced) departmental heads to accept the publication of the traffic light status on big and risky projects. The Major Projects Authority reviews IT and other projects costing more than £50m.

The Telegraph says the MPA annual report will reveal Government troubleshooters’ concerns about multi-billion pound projects like the Universal Credit.

The article says the MPA annual report will show that about a third of projects it has reviewed are late or over budget. Says the Telegraph: “Government sources said that the MPA will show that management of big projects has improved significantly since 2010, when two-thirds of programmes were in trouble.

“But the report, expected later this month, will confirm that Whitehall ‘still has a long way to go’ to improve its handling of major projects, a source said.”

The article adds that publication of the annual report “follows a lengthy internal struggle between ministers and civil servants about the disclosure of problems with big Government schemes”.

Some ministers, says the article, are privately concerned that civil servants are bad at managing big, expensive projects but repeatedly cover up their failings and refuse to tell ministers about problems.  Disclosing “candid” assessments about big projects will improve management, ministers believe.

The Telegraph says that a “new publication scheme that will start later this month” will publicly rate each project at red, amber, or green. 

Each central department will be told to publish details of its major projects every six months, including the red-amber-green ratings and the data behind them, says the article.

The Telegraph quotes as a coalition source as saying: “Releasing a candid report about Whitehall’s major projects is a big and brave step for Government…”

Management of big projects better but still generally poor? 

Lord Browne, a lead non-executive in the Cabinet Office and the man appointed to recruit business leaders to Whitehall departmental boards, has criticised the management of major projects as “worryingly poor”.

He said that insufficient attention was given to identifying risks in the planning stage, and that there had been a “consistent failure” to appoint leaders with the right skills and experience.

Browne said the creation of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) in the Cabinet Office in 2011 had improved their delivery, but “nobody ever intervenes in a poor project soon enough” and that warning signs were often ignored or under-reported.

He called for an “ongoing and rigorous review process with real teeth” which would monitor measures of progress and call “time out” on failing projects, allowing them either to be fixed or stopped.

Browne said the government could learn from the private sector, where projects are scrutinised to a “very high standard” before work begins. In line with this, he suggested that the MPA should have a strengthened “stage-gate approval process” to ensure that projects achieve objectives.

He said that projects should not be allowed to begin until a team with the right skills – including a leader who had previously delivered a large, complex project – had been identified.

He also suggested that the MPA nominate leaders and veto unsuitable candidates. He said that expensive projects should “never be seen as a personal development opportunity”.

He advocated using pay, benefits and bonuses to give team members incentives to work on the project “until appropriate milestones are reached”. This, Browne said, had been key to the success of major projects delivered by the private sector.

Departments still sceptical of Maude’s reforms?

Meanwhile the FT has reported that Maude’s attempts to inject commercial acumen into Whitehall by putting leading business figures on departmental boards is failing to live up to its billing, with some departments rarely consulting their external non-executive directors.

The FT says that the Treasury department’s supervisory board met only once in the year to April 2012, according to a report by Insight Public Affairs, a consultancy. The energy department’s board met twice, compared to 15 meetings in the transport department, reflecting the inconsistent involvement of non-executive directors.

John Lehal, managing director of Insight Public Affairs, said the ad hoc manner in which departments held board meetings reflected the need for greater accountability – as underlined by the Treasury’s failure to engage its non-executives.


At long last the Major Projects Authority, under the straight-talking Australian David  Pitchford, will publish its annual report; and it may contain more detail on major projects than has been published by any government.

As departments fear public embarrassment more than any other sanction, publication of the traffic light status of projects – with the underlying detail – should genuinely discourage the starting of ill-considered projects.

Although the MPA annual report is much delayed Maude has succeeded in getting agreement for it to be published. Provided it contains enough detail to allow the status of projects to be judged by armchair auditors, it should begin to make a real difference.

Telegraph article

Could HMRC have a major IT success on its hands?

By Tony Collins

It’s much too soon to say that Real-Time Information is a success – but it’s not looking  like another central government IT disaster.

A gradual implementation with months of piloting, and HMRC’s listening to comments from payroll professionals, software companies and employers, seems to have made a difference.

The Cabinet Office’s high-priority attempts to avoid IT disasters, through the Major Projects Authority, seems also to have helped, by making HMRC a little more humble, collegiate and community-minded than in past IT roll-outs. HMRC is also acutely sensitive to the ramifications of an RTI roll-out failure on the reputation of Universal Credit which starts officially in October.

On the GOV.UK website HMRC says that since RTI started on 6 April 2013 about 70,000 PAYE [pay-as-you-earn] returns have been filed by employers or their agents including software and payroll companies.

About 70,000 is a small number so far. HMRC says there are about 1.6 million PAYE schemes, every one of which will include PAYE returns for one or more employees. About 30 million people are on PAYE. Nearly all employers are expected to be on RTI by October 2013.

The good news

 Ruth Owen, HMRC’s Director General Personal Tax, says:

“RTI is the biggest change to PAYE in 70 years and it is great news that so many employers have started to report PAYE in real time. But we are under no illusions – we know that it will take time before every employer in the country is using RTI.

“We appreciate that some employers might be daunted by the change but …we are taking a pragmatic approach which includes no in-year late filing penalties for the first year.”

It hasn’t been a big-bang launch. HMRC has been piloting RTI for a year with thousands of employers. Under RTI, employers and their agents give HMRC real-time PAYE information every time the employee is paid, instead of yearly.

When bedded down the system is expected to cut administrative costs for businesses and make tax codes more accurate, though the transitional RTI costs for some businesses, including training, may be high and payroll firms have had extra costs for changes to their software.

RTI means that employers don’t have to complete annual PAYE returns or send in forms when new employees join or leave.

The bad news

The RTI systems were due to cost £108m but HMRC’s Ruth Owen told the Treasury sub-committee that costs have risen by tens of millions:

“… I can see that it [RTI] is going to cost £138m compared with £108m. I believe that is going to go up again in the scale of tens of millions.”

She said that in October 2012.


The Daily Telegraph suggested on Monday that RTI may be “ready to implode”.

But problems with RTI so far seem to be mainly procedural and rule-based – or are related to long waits getting queries answered via the helpline – rather than any major faults with the RTI systems.

In general members of the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals report successes with their RTI submissions, and some comment on response times being good after initial delays at around the launch date.

Payroll software supplier Sage says the filing of submissions has been successful. There was a shaky start, however, with HMRC’s RTI portal being under maintenance over the weekend.

Jonathan Cowan from the Sage Payroll Team said: “There was understandable confusion and frustration over the weekend with businesses unable to file due to HMRC site issues.”

Accountingweb’s readers have had many problems – it said RTI “stumbled into action –  but few of the difficulties are, it seems, serious. “Have I missed something, but RTI despite all the commotion doesn’t seem that bad,” says an accountant in a blog post on the site.

Payrollworld says RTI problems have been minor. “The launch of Real Time Information (RTI) has encountered a number of minor issues, though payroll suppliers broadly report initial filing success.”


It’s not everyday we report on a big government IT project that shows signs of succeeding. It’s too early to call RTI a success but it’s difficult to see how anything can go seriously wrong now unless HMRC’s helplines give way under heavy demand.

It’s worth remembering that RTI is aimed at PAYE professionals – not the general public as with Universal Credit. Payroll specialists are used to solving complex problems. That said, RTI’s success is critical to the success of Universal Credit. A barrier to that success has, for now, been overcome.

Perhaps HMRC’s RTI success so far shows what a central department can achieve when it listens and acts on concerns instead of having a mere consultation; and it has done what it could to avoid failure. They’re obvious precepts for the private sector – but have not always in the past been characteristics of central government IT schemes such as the NPfIT.