A document released this week by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) explaining the claims process for Universal Credit states that “most interactions will be face to face, by telephone or by post”.
The news comes shortly after the project lead for Universal Credit, Howard Shiplee, told a committee of MPs that the digital by default mantra that was adopted at the beginning of the project “went away a long time ago”.
DWP also states in the document that once an application has been submitted online, if an applicant has any questions about the claim or needs to tell the department about any changes to their circumstances, this will need to be done by phone or face to face.
Universal Credit aims to merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working credit. The IT system supporting it will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
DWP plans to spend £2.4 billion to implement Universal Credit up to April 2023 and has spent £425 million up to April 2013. Most spending so far (£303 million) has been on contracts for designing and developing IT systems. However, to date there have been a number of suspected problems with delivery.
The department has had to admit that the current system being developed by the likes of HP, Accenture and IBM will be written down over a five-year period because it is too rigid and not scalable, whilst a new ‘digital’ system being developed in-house will be used for national rollout.
Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, told Computerworld UK that when the digital version is in place the need for face to face interaction should be the exception, not the rule.
“There are two things being developed and they work very differently,” said Maude.
“Everyone has accepted that the digital solution is the long-term solution and no-one has ever said that in that there will be no human contact. It has always been the case that there will be specific cases that need to be dealt with where human contact is needed – but that should not be in every case.”
For a detailed analysis of the problems associated with Universal Credit, click here.