The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has finally admitted that although its current IT solution for the flagship Universal Credit programme is viable, it is not up to scratch and is calling in the Government Digital Service (GDS) for help.
It claims that any ‘enhanced IT solution’ that is built by GDS to complement the current system, which has been developed with the help of suppliers such as Accenture, HP and IBM, will have to be delivered on time and on budget.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working credit. The IT system supporting the project will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.
There have been numerous reports of problems with the current IT system that has been developed, as well as a number of changes in leadership. However, it is David Pitchford, head of the Major Projects Authority, whom took the lead on the project for three months that has recommended a new system be built to support the current implementation.
He advised that the current Universal Credit technology is already outdated.
DWP hopes to deliver Universal Credit over a four year period to 2017 and has a budget of £2 billion for this parliament.
The department said: “The Pathfinder exercise has shown that the IT system works underpinned by the Real Time Information system [being built by HMRC]. But, in parallel, after asking major projects expert David Pitchford to review it earlier this year, ministers have accepted his recommendation that they should explore enhancing the IT for Universal Credit working with the Government Digital Service.
“Advancements in technology since the current system was developed have meant that a more responsive system that is more flexible and secure could potentially be built.”
It added: “This would marry with the best of the existing system – which has proved viable during Pathfinder testing. Any enhanced IT solution will need to be both cost effective and deliverable to original timescales.”
The announcement also laid out plans for the next phase of rollout, which will see another two job centres in the north-west added to the pilot this month. It will then be rolled out to another six job centres from October (Hammersmith, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath, Shotton).
“Today we’ve announced the next stage of delivery for Universal Credit, following the successful start of the early roll out in April,” said Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
“I am pleased to say that while we press ahead with delivery, we are also ensuring that we have the best long-term approach in place for this transformative benefit.”
He added: “I’m determined to get this right and will not follow the old ways of governing – launching with a big bang and having to clear up the mess afterwards. I will bring in this radical reform safely, and I’m committed to doing it by 2017 and to budget.”