The government is considering a ‘mobile first’ strategy for delivery of its Universal Credit scheme, with many claimants choosing to make benefits applications through smartphones and tablets.
Speaking at the Public Sector ICT event in London today, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) CIO Andy Nelson said that the number of claims made online during the pilot phase of its welfare reform project had surpassed expectations.
“We had rough predictions that 50 percent of people would apply online, but over 90 percent of all claims have been made this way, and well over a quarter have been made using mobile devices,” said Nelson.
He added: “As we work with GDS (Government Digital Service) colleagues and think about how to take the online presence further, we will look at the degree to which we orient thinking around mobile first, and online or PC second.”
The government has so far spent £425 million on implementing Universal Credit, with £303 million related to contracts for designing and developing IT systems.
Despite the investment, the rollout of the scheme has only reached a small percentage of the population. The pilot scheme began in Ashton-under-Lyme in April, with 300 claimants trialling the service, before being rolled out to other areas including Hammersmith, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Inverness and Rugby.
Nelson acknowledged that the implementation of Universal Credit so far has been small scale.
“Universal Credit is at a modest stage still, piloting through a number of sites, with four sites through the summer, another three since then with two more going live yesterday," he said. "These are very modest numbers so far, [with] over four thousand claims made.”
The Universal Credit project has already encountered a number of problems with the design and rollout of IT systems underpinning the plans, with £34 million of IT assets being written off, a figure that could rise to £140 million in future. Nelson repeated DWP claims that the government will "reuse" some these assets.
During a Public Accounts Committee meeting in September, Dr Norma Wood, interim director general of the Major Projects Authority, said that some assets deemed “not fit for purpose” could be reused as part of an enhanced Universal Credit IT system.