Thomas Bridge 26 November 2014

Universal Credit delays risk multi-billion pound bill, say auditors

Universal Credit delays risk multi-billion pound bill, say auditors image

Delays to the Coalition’s flagship Universal Credit scheme risk creating a multi-million pound bill for the taxpayers, auditors have warned.

Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) finds Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) efforts to reset its welfare reform scheme in 2013 have ‘significantly extended’ the timetable for introducing the single benefit nationally – which merges six means-tested payments for working age households.

Concerns raised about the project’s viability early last year prompted adoption of a ‘twin-track’ approach to its IT footing.

While the DWP believes societal benefits will ultimately validate the additional cost of such an approach, the NAO today concluded such potential benefits ‘do not mean Universal Credit will be value for money regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so’.

The DWP was ultimately forced to extend its timetable for the programme after fears it was unlikely that over one million tax credits claimants could be transferred to the system by April 2016 as planned.

Since the reset, a ‘test and learn’ approach has seen the department rolling out its live service while simultaneously developing the digital service.

Yet the NAO stated delays to the programme’s digital service meant the current timetable remained ‘challenging’. Auditors also pointed out that no contingency plan was currently in place should the digital service fail.

It is predicted that the DWP could be forced to pay an additional £2.8bn in staff costs if it was to use the live systems instead of its digital service.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: ‘The DWP has reset Universal Credit on a sounder basis but at significant cost, by extending the time for implementation and choosing a more expensive approach. It is now vital that the department quickly establish clear goals for delivering the programme, in terms of cost, time and functionality, against which it can be held to account.’

Commenting on the report, Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee of public accounts, said: ‘The Department’s unacceptably poor management of this programme has wasted time and taxpayers’ money, with a staggering £600m spent in 4 years just to get to the first stage of business case sign-off.

‘Now the department is throwing good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix with no adequate plan for delivery, insufficient skills and unclear milestones to measure progress against. The transfer of all claimants on to Universal Credit will not now be completed until after the end of 2019.’

A DWP spokesman said the economy would benefit by £7bn each year once Universal Credit was fully adopted, with three million families being on average £177 a month better off.

SIGN UP
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Head of HR/OD

Babergh & Mid Suffolk
£60,000 circa
The role will involve working closely with the Senior Leadership Team and Chief Executive to lead our People Strategy and... Ipswich, Suffolk
Recuriter: Babergh & Mid Suffolk

Customer Services Assistant (Libraries)

Essex County Council
Up to £9469 per annum
Please note this is part time position (18.5 hours a week) across Uttlesford, mainly based in Dunmow and Stansted and is to be offered on an initial 6 England, Essex, Dunmow
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Customer Services Assistant (Libraries)

Essex County Council
Up to £18938 per annum
Please note this position is to be offered on an initial 6 month , fixed term basis. Do you enjoy working with people? Enthusiastic about playing a ke England, Essex, Saffron Walden
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Customer Services Assistant - Mark Hall Library

Essex County Council
£17000 - £18950 per annum
Please note that this position is a part time role, offering 18.5 hours per week and is offered on a Fixed Term Basis for a period of 6 months. England, Essex, Harlow
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Senior Practitioner - Family Support & Protection

Essex County Council
Negotiable
Please note this is a fixed term contract or secondment opportunity until December 2020 In Essex County Council we are "Serious about Social Work". H England, Essex, Basildon
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Local Government News

Latest issue - Local Goverrnemnt News

This issue of Local Government News explores what impact the increase to the Public Works Loan Board rate have on councils’ capital schemes and why adopting AI will not just improve customer service response times for councils.

This issue also finds out how local government pension funds are backing infrastructure projects and calls on local government to get better value from its technology spend.

Register for your free magazine