The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has defended itself against harsh criticism from the National Audit Office, insisting that it will implement Universal Credit “on time and within budget”.
According to the NAO report published today, poor management and governance had stymied progress on the welfare reform project and the department has had to write off £34 million of IT costs related to Universal Credit.
But in response to the report, Universal Credit: early progress, a DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering Universal Credit on time by 2017 and within budget, and under new leadership we have a plan in place that is achievable.”
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).
According to the DWP spokesperson, the NAO report has not acknowledged the successes of the project so far.
“The report does not cover the significant developments we’ve made since April, including the go-live in Greater Manchester, our progress on the IT challenge, the latest plans for expansion from October, or the fact that we brought in two of the country’s leading project management experts to lead Universal Credit.”
The management experts being referred to are Howard Shiplee, former director of construction for the London 2012 Olympics and David Pitchford from the Major Projects Authority.
Shiplee, pre-empting negative coverage of the NAO’s report, wrote in the Daily Telegraph yesterday: “I am confident we are now back on course and the challenges are being handled.”
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.