MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are set to question Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith and project lead Howard Shiplee on the ongoing problems facing Universal Credit.
This afternoon Duncan Smith and Shiplee are likely to be probed on the expected delays to the welfare reform project, as well as face questions about how much of the IT assets already created are expected to be written off going forward.
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.
It was revealed last week that the DWP is likely to miss its 2017 deadline for rolling out Universal Credit and is now also developing a new ‘enhanced’ version of the IT after the Government Digital Service (GDS) was brought in to help with problems facing the project.
However, confusion remains about how this new digital system is going to integrate with the original system being developed by the likes of HP, IBM and Accenture, which DWP is also pressing ahead with.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report recently found that the original system wasn’t fit for purpose and wouldn’t scale up for a national rollout. It found that at least £34 million of IT assets had already been written off because of the problems.
Ahead of Shiplee’s and Duncan Smith’s appearance in front of MPs, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has criticised the department’s handling of the project.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The fact Iain Duncan Smith has clung on for so long is one of the great political mysteries of our time and the question must be asked, how is he still in a job?
"He has presided over not only a disgusting campaign of vilification towards the most vulnerable people in our society but also an absolutely scandalous waste of public money that could have been better spent supporting the sick, disabled and unemployed."