HM Treasury still has not signed off the business case for Universal Credit three months after receiving it, according to the head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake.
Typically major projects require their business case to be approved by HM Treasury in order for them to continue to receive funding. However Kerslake said that Universal Credit is being drip-fed funding by HM Treasury as it receives updates and assurances on progress.
During a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session yesterday, after repeated questioning by chair Margaret Hodge, Kerslake admitted: “We shouldn't beat about the bush. It hasn't been signed off. What we've had is a set of conditional reassurances about progress and the Treasury have released money accordingly. That is one of the key controls.”
Universal Credit, which aims to combine six benefits into one payment, was originally due to launch nationally in October 2013. However the project has been slowed down drastically since it was ‘reset’ last year, with a ‘digital solution’ being developed to replace the existing systems.
In November last year the PAC said much of the £425m spent by that point could have to be written off due to poor oversight of the project.
The National Audit Office, which published a damning investigation into the project in September last year, has started examining Universal Credit again and plans to publish another report in late autumn.
The project is in such trouble that it could be scrapped next May.
A report by the Financial Times in February quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying that the troubled benefits project must “start delivering results by the next election or risk being drastically scaled back or even abandoned”. The Labour party recently said it would ‘pause’ the introduction of Universal Credit and conduct a three-month review if it forms a government after the general election next year.
However the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that the plan is ‘on track’ and all funding to date has been approved by the Treasury when contacted by ComputerworldUK.
A spokesman said: "Universal Credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year - the new service now available in 24 Jobcentres, and last week expanded to claims from couples.
"The Treasury has been fully engaged in the roll out plan and have approved all funding to date."