Undeveloped IT systems on the Universal Credit programme could lead to wide-scale fraud and error, MPs have warned.
The department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must provide swift assurance that the transition to Universal Credit will not leave the benefit system vulnerable to fraud, the Communities and Local Government Committee has said in a report.
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The committee has raised concerns about the readiness of the IT systems supporting the Universal Credit programme.
Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said: “We heard evidence that IT systems for fraud detection in Universal Credit were still at an early stage in their development.
"This is extremely concerning, given the advanced state of implementation. The government must act to provide assurance that the benefit system will not be left vulnerable to fraud either during or after the transition. And it must do so urgently.”
Local authorities have expressed concerns about the proposed IT infrastructure and interfacing, stating that this could lead to significant amount of error, as well as potential increased burden of overpayments and subsequent hardship to landlords and claimants.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “New IT systems need to be procured, a whole policy and procedure needs to be written and some key decisions have had to be made about the service delivery and payment model. All of these factors have been extremely labour-intensive and the funding will not cover the costs of this.
"DWP needs to make funding available to minimise the impact of the withdrawal of legal aid and for training across advice sectors in order to deal with new IT systems and the changes under the welfare reform."
The concerns follow news that the DWP is unlikely to use identity assurance (IDA) services for the early-stage roll-out of the Universal Credit programme, essential for citizens to authenticate themselves online when using digital transactions.
It also follows reports that IT contractors on the Universal Credit IT project have been told to down tools, following suggestions that several key milestones have been missed.
However, the DWP remains insistent that the project will be delivered on time and on budget.