The government claims that the IT behind Universal Credit is working, as it rolled out the troubled system to Inverness and Rugby.
Universal Credit is a major project that aims to merge six benefits into one. However, a recent National Audit Office report revealed that poor governance had stymied progress on the project, and that the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) had to write off £34 million of IT costs related to it. Despite this, the DWP has insisted that Universal Credit will be “on time and within budget”.
Lord Freud, minister for Welfare Reform, said: “We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow, safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we’re in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Inverness and Rugby for the first time.
“Most people are claiming it online, the IT is working and comprehensive support is in place.”
The government started rolling out Universal Credit in Hammersmith, London, last month, and it is up and running in Greater Manchester and Cheshire.
Harrogate, Bath and Shotton will be the next places to get Universal Credit by the spring.
However, the government is only rolling out the system for simple claims at first - from single jobseekers. As a result, MPs have labelled the DWP pilot scheme ‘inadequate’ and ‘limited’ in its scope.
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.
It has also brought in management experts Howard Shiplee, former director of construction for the London 2012 Olympics and David Pitchford from the Major Projects Authority, to help improve governance.
Earlier this month, MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have heavily criticised the Department for Work & Pensions' (DWP) handling of suppliers working on the multi-billion pound Universal Credit welfare reform project.