Universal Credit and FOI - do DWP officials know what they are doing?

Universal Credit is the government’s biggest IT-based programme that is built on agile principles. The outcome of the programme will be important to, potentially, millions of benefit claimants. Universal Credit is due to be rolled out from...

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Universal Credit is the government’s biggest IT-based programme that is built on agile principles. The outcome of the programme will be important to, potentially, millions of benefit claimants. Universal Credit is due to be rolled out from April 2013,

If i t goes wrong claimants could receive overpayments, underpayments, or nothing at all.

So it’s in the public interest that reports on the progress of the scheme are made public to enable Parliament, stakeholders, the  media and “armchair auditors” to hold those running the scheme to account.

It’s perhaps for this reason that the Department for Work and Pensions, which runs Universal alongside HM Revenue and Customs, is keeping progress reports on the scheme secret.

Under the FOI Act I requested in June 2011 a report of the Starting Gate review of Universal Credit. The Starting Gate is a short independent peer review which applies at the early stages of the policy-to-delivery life-cycle. It offers departments independent assurance on how well practical delivery issues are being addressed in preparing for implementation.

The Department for Work and Pensions refused to release the Starting Gate report on Universal Credit. It also rejected my appeal under the FOI Act. On the day it rejected my appeal I discovered that the DWP had released the report to two Parliamentary committees. Although those committees did not publish the report they lodged it in the House of Commons Library.

So while one part of the DWP was refusing to release the report under the FOI Act another part of the Department had already sent it to two Parliamentary committees.

Does the DWP FOI team know what it is doing? Perhaps the DWP’s FOI staff should be released to other duties. Then the DWP’s systems can automatically generate letters and emails that reject FOI requests and appeals without manual intervention. That would cut achieve the same results with less cost.  

Through the House of Commons Library it has been possible to obtain the “secret” DWP report on Universal Credit. Excerpts from it are here