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Universal Credit ‘Wasted £140m On IT’ Says PAC

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

PAC claims at least £140 million of IT spend is set to be written off

The Universal Credit IT palaver gained fresh momentum today, as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) claimed at least £140 million worth of IT assets would have to be written off as a result of implementation failures.

Despite having cross-party support, the Universal Credit scheme, which will replace the current benefits programme in the UK, has been hampered by poor management, according to the PAC.

Universal Credit management slammed

Fail 2 - ShutterStock: © kaarsten

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which is responsible for Universal Credit, had already written off £34 million of IT spend. Concerns over usability and security have continued to plague the project.

Use of systems even had to be scaled back “because of the unresolved security issues,” the PAC report read. The so-called Pathfinder IT system “lacks the identity assurance and anti-fraud components that the full system will need”.

“There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers, with the Department failing to implement the most basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure,” said chair of the PAC, Margaret Hodge.

“In some cases multi-million pound orders were approved by secretarial staff. Individual payments could not even be linked to particular pieces of work that had been delivered.

“The pilot programme is not a proper pilot. Its scope is limited to only the simplest new claims of people who are single, have no dependants and would otherwise be seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“It lacks the security components needed to prevent fraudulent claims and protect individuals’ personal information.”

The PAC said Universal Credit will not hit its current target of enrolling 184,000 claimants by April 2014.

The DWP has spent £303 million on IT so far, out of £425 million total spend. It expects to spend £2.4 billion up to April 2023.

Now the PAC wants DWP to overhaul governance so the right management structures are in place to deal with the enormity of the task, whilst producing its own “impairment review” to determine where money is being wasted. The DWP has also been told to develop a “clear strategy for IT development, demonstrating the best way forward for the programme and an accurate review of current investment which will not be needed in the long-term”.

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