The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) cost of setting up an IT system for the new child maintenance scheme has more than doubled from an expected £149 million in January 2011 to £352 million today, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
The Child Maintenance Service opened in 2012 and manages all applications for statutory child maintenance arrangements. It was previously the responsibility of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC), which replaced the Child Support Agency (CSA) in 2008.
In a report the auditor described how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) lost control of costs during early development of the system as a result of poor oversight, delayed implementation and a confused ‘mix and match’ approach of Agile and traditional development, which it later abandoned in favour of traditional methods.
The new IT system went live without full testing and has experienced service disruptions, with an internal report concluding that systems were not yet stable earlier this year.
The NAO found that one area of delay was in the department’s plans to build a data warehouse to help automate the process of closing complex legacy cases - which refers to cases opened when the service was run by the CSA.
The legacy cases are being phased out over the next few years once the new service is fully operational, and the data warehouse would be used for reporting and analysis, integrating data from a variety of sources to create a central information system.
“The department is planning to close 800,000 legacy cases at a cost of £370 million but will not be able to close its more complex cases without its data warehouse. The IT systems of the legacy schemes cannot select cases for closure or prioritise the order for closing them. The data warehouse is designed to automate case closure and provide timely management information on productivity and efficiency of all schemes,” the NAO said.
“But the data warehouse is several months behind schedule. The department is using its legacy systems in the short term to help close cases but will not be able to rely upon these systems for more complex cases.”
The delayed data warehouse is set to cost an additional £4 million, the NAO said, bringing the total that DWP expects to spend on the data warehouse to £37 million between 2009 and 2017.
The spending watchdog said the DWP contracted a supplier to develop a data warehouse in 2009, however much of the expected functionality remains undelivered. It was supposed to be delivered in April 2014 but is now expected to launch this autumn. The delays were primarily caused by the department’s requirements shifting over time, for example as a result of plans to introduce charging announced in 2011.
The NAO recommended that DWP test alternative arrangements for closing complex cases, should the delays in setting up a data warehouse persist.
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