Programme director of Universal Credit at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Malcolm Whitehouse, has stepped down amid speculation that the project’s go live date is set to be pushed back.
Whitehouse has been replaced by benefits director Hilary Reynolds, but he will remain on in the short-term to manage the transition.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit. The Universal Credit IT system will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.
The official line from the DWP’s spokespeople is that the change in management of the programme reflects the shift in focus from system design to actual implementation and delivery of Universal Credit.
The early roll-out of the system is set for April next year, with a national roll-out scheduled for October, after testing.
However, Computerworld UK attended a roundtable this week with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who explicitly cast doubt on the success of the Universal Credit programme so far.
Her comments focused on the Major Projects Authority, which has been told by government that it cannot publish the traffic light findings [green, amber, red ratings] on whether or not projects are at risk or not – because they might be damaging to government.
She said: “I would imagine it’s because Universal Credit has got a big red on it.”
Hodge also implied that the roll-out may be pushed back, after she revealed that she received ambiguous answers from senior government officials when she had questioned them on the go-live date.
Computerworld UK asked DWP if the sudden change in leadership meant that the programme’s timeframes may be moved back, but was told that this wasn’t the case and that the appointment of Reynolds simply reflected the shift in focus from design to implementation.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “"With the early roll out of Universal Credit starting in less than six months’ time, the programme is moving from system design to delivery. To reflect this, there have been some staff changes as we shift the focus onto implementation.”