There remains worrying uncertainty about the new Universal Credit (UC) IT system, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published on April 9.

This uncertainty includes how it will work, how much it will cost, and who will develop it.{jcomments on}

National roll-out of UC was due to begin in October 2013. But problems with IT systems meant that major changes to the implementation timetable were made in July and then again in December 2013.

Currently, UC claims are still limited to 10 Pathfinder Jobcentres. New claims are not expected to be extended to the whole of Great Britain until 2016; and the bulk of existing claimants will not move over to UC until 2016-17.

Commenting, Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:

"Only 4,280 people were claiming Universal Credit by December 2013 and the majority of these claims were of the simplest nature. By comparison, in the same month, 1.22 million people were claiming Jobseekers Allowance. This demonstrates the scale of the challenge still facing the Government in trying to implement UC by 2017.

Whilst it is right to ensure that the system works properly before extending it, there is a difference between cautious progress and a snail’s pace. Given the excruciatingly slow pace of roll-out to date, it is hard to see how the most recent implementation timetable can be met."

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, who is a member of the committee and whose Oldham constituency includes one of the 10 Pathfinder Jobcentres, says:

“The questions the government seem unable to answer around the proposed new IT system for UC are; how it will work; how much it will cost; and who will develop it?

“Pretty basic, but important, information I would think and it’s very worrying that once again Iain Duncan Smith seems to have absolutely no idea what is going on in his own department.”

She raises further concerns about vulnerable people and how they will be supported through the changes to the system:

“The Government has set out in the Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) how it envisages support for vulnerable people being provided in partnership with local authorities, housing providers and the voluntary sector.”

In addition to concerns about the government’s openness and transparency when asked about the scheme, Debbie Abrahams also raises questions about the true cost to the public purse:

“The money wasted on Universal Credit so far is £40 million on IT software, that now has no use, and £90 million on software with a useful life of only 5 years and that is a shocking waste of public money.

“So much so that Work and Pensions Committee is asking the Government if it should consider whether it would be a better use of taxpayers’ money to abandon further development of the existing system and focus solely on the end-state solution it proposes.”

She added that the delays are placing pressure on Local Authorities:

“Local authorities, which were expecting new claims for housing benefit to have ended by April 2014, will now be administering it as a separate benefit until at least 2016. It is impossible for them to know how to handle their housing benefit departments until the Government clarifies what funding will be available.”

Read the full work and pensions committee report here


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