Report on the early progress of Universal Credit
- Published on Thursday, 07 November 2013 10:17
- Written by Govtoday staff
The Public Accounts Committee publishes its 30th Report on Universal Credit: early progress.
The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"Universal Credit is the DWP's single biggest programme and enjoys cross-party support, yet its implementation has been extraordinarily poor.
"The failure to develop a comprehensive plan has led to extensive delay and the waste of a yet to be determined amount of public money. £425 million has been spent so far on the programme. It is likely that much of this, including at least £140 million worth of IT assets, will now have to be written off.
"The management of the programme has been alarmingly weak. From the outset, the Department has failed to grasp the nature and enormity of the task; failed to monitor and challenge progress regularly; and, when problems arose, failed to intervene promptly. Lack of day-to-day control meant early warning signs were missed, with senior managers becoming aware of problems only through ad hoc reviews.
"Pressure to deliver a programme of this magnitude within such an ambitious timescale created a fortress culture where only good news was reported and problems were denied. Because they had no overall view of what was going on and no system to monitor progress, the Department's Universal Credit team became isolated and defensive.
"We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.
"There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers, with the Department failing to implement the most basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure. In some cases multi-million pound orders were approved by secretarial staff. Individual payments could not even be linked to particular pieces of work that had been delivered.
"The pilot programme is not a proper pilot. Its scope is limited to only the simplest new claims of people who are single, have no dependants and would otherwise be seeking Jobseeker's Allowance.
"It lacks the security components needed to prevent fraudulent claims and protect individuals' personal information.
"It does not deal with the key issues that Universal Credit must address: the volume of claims; their complexity; change in claimants' circumstances; and the need for claimants to meet conditions for continuing entitlement to benefit. The Department needs a revised pilot that is capable of properly informing the full roll-out of Universal Credit.
"The programme will not hit its current target of enrolling 184,000 claimants by April 2014. The Department will have to speed up the later stages of the programme if it is to meet the 2017 completion date but that will pose new risks.
"The Department needs to focus on the long-term successful implementation of Universal Credit. It should evaluate what benefit it can derive from the existing IT but must not throw good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix that does not stand the test of time."
Responding to the report a DWP Spokesperson said:
"Universal Credit is a vital reform that rewards work instead of trapping people on benefits. It will ultimately bring a £38 billion economic benefit to society.
"This report doesn't take into account our new leadership team, or our progress on delivery. We have already taken comprehensive action including strengthening governance, supplier management and financial controls.
"Since we have last spoken to the PAC, we have also launched Universal Credit in Hammersmith, which will expand to further areas later this month and the Claimant Commitment is rolling out to Jobcentres across the country.
"We don't recognise the write off figure quoted by the committee and expect this to be substantially less. The head of Universal Credit Howard Shiplee has been clear that there is real potential to use much of the existing IT. We will announce our plans for the next phase of UC delivery shortly."
Labour Party response:
Rachel Reeves MP, Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, responding to the PAC report on Universal Credit, said:
"Today's report from the Public Accounts Committee is a shocking confirmation of David Cameron's failure and another nail in the coffin of his Government's promise to deliver Universal Credit on time and on budget.
"Families facing a cost of living crisis need welfare reform they can trust. Instead they've got an out of touch Prime Minister who has presided over chaos and waste."