DWP 'has not started work' on key benefits systems

The Department of Work and Pensions has not yet made any changes to its IT systems to prepare for the introduction of the new employment and support allowance (ESA) next year, a minister has admitted.

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The Department of Work and Pensions has not yet made any changes to its IT systems to prepare for the introduction of the new employment and support allowance (ESA) next year, a minister has admitted.

The allowance will replace incapacity benefits for new claimants from October 2008. The IT project to implement the new benefit is budgeted to cost £295m.

Work and Pensions minister Caroline Flint said an IT feasibility study for the implementation of ESA had recommended building on existing successful developments within the DWP.

The study recommended that the ESA system be largely made up of a front-end from Siebel – based on re-use of the department’s Pensions Transformation Project Customer Account Management system – and a new service based on legacy mainframes and built on an extension of the jobseeker’s allowance payment system.

These two elements comprised “the bulk of the IS/IT change required” to implement ESA, Flint said, in response to parliamentary questions.

But the minister added: “No changes have made to IT systems to enable the delivery of employment and support allowance at this stage.”

The ESA programme would also have “wide-ranging impacts” throughout the DWP, other government departments and local authorities, she said.

“To date, the programme has identified and engaged a range of internal and external stakeholders and have IS/IT plans at various stages of maturity.”

The move to build the ESA systems using existing systems as a base follows the collapse of the DWP’s £143m benefit process replacement programme (BPRP) last year. The IT project was axed because of fears that it could not be delivered while the introduction of the ESA in the 2007 Welfare Reform Act also required the programme to be refocused.

In January, Lesley Strathie, head of the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus service told MPs that nearly half the value of the abandoned BPRP scheme was set to be written off.

Only £73m worth of work on the huge project could be “recycled”, she told the told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, describing the collapse of BPRP as the agency’s “biggest single failure”.

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