There are now 160 people working on the Universal Credit digital service, according to minister for disabled people Mark Harper.
It is a dramatic increase in manpower compared with last January, when just three members of DWP IT staff were working on the digital system, which will be the eventual platform for all benefit claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to recruit a further 50 staff members between now and April to work on the beleaguered benefit reform project, Harper said in a written answer to shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms.
Harper said: “The number of people working on the Universal Credit digital service is tracking very close to recruitment plans.”
The DWP has adopted a ‘twin track’ development model for the new benefit, with existing systems for national implementation developed alongside the new digital solution. The government eventually plans to switch from current systems to the digital solution for all claimants.
ComputerworldUK understands the DWP offers higher wages to digital specialists than other Whitehall departments to try to entice them to work on the programme.
The new digital solution is currently being trialled in a small-scale pilot among new, single claimants in Sutton, a town with a population of just over 40,000.
The DWP will review the trial in June and will then start preparing it for expansion to other areas, according to Universal Credit chief Neil Couling.
The existing ‘non-digital’ system is currently supporting Universal Credit in 96 jobcentres, about 10 percent of the UK total, but the DWP has promised it will be available to single new claimants in one in three jobcentres by this spring.
The project, which aims to merge six benefits into a single monthly payment, has been beset by problems right from the start, with millions of pounds wasted on unworkable IT. The scheme is on its seventh boss in two years.
Last month a senior HM Treasury official warned the government may have to write off £663 million on Universal Credit IT. The wastage is a result of the decision to develop two systems concurrently, as just £34 million of the £697 spent on IT will be used for the final digital system.
Despite the major decision to ‘reset’ the programme, scrap the IT developed and build a digital system from scratch, Whitehall projects watchdog the Major Projects Authority (MPA) is still sceptical about whether Universal Credit will work.
The MPA has the scheme rated amber/red, meaning it believes “successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas”.
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