Ministers have heavily criticised the Government’s flagship Universal Credit (UC) programme, saying the scheme is likely to waste over £140m of public money.
Implementation of UC by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been ‘extraordinarily poor’, with a ‘shocking absence of control’ allowing one personal assistant to approve a £22.6m purchase order - the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.
A report into the early progress of UC – which draws together six benefits into a single system – found that while £425m had been spent so far on the programme, at least £140m of IT assets would have to be written off.
The DWP said it expects UC to bring a £38bn economic benefit to society and affirmed it had already taken action to strengthen governance and supplier management.
In a damning report, the PAC claimed DWP had failed to properly understand the enormity of the task, properly monitor progress or intervene effectively when problems arose.
Senior managers only became aware of problems thanks to ‘ad hoc reviews’, which allowed early warning signs to be missed.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, attacked the DWP for adopting a ‘fortress culture’ which saw it reporting only good news and denying problems.
MPs said they anticipated UC would not hit current targets of enrolling 184,000 claimants by April.
The PAC also concluded the pilot programme remained ‘inadequate’ and had failed to deal with issues such as the volume of claims or their complexity.
‘Universal Credit is the DWP’s single biggest programme and enjoys cross-party support, yet its implementation has been extraordinarily poor,’ Hodge said.
‘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.’
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘Universal Credit is a vital reform that rewards work instead of trapping people on benefits.
‘We don’t recognise the write off figure quoted by the committee and expect this to be substantially less.’