MPs given little comfort on state of Child Support Agency systems

Members of the MPs' Work and Pensions Committee praised only one part of the government's response to their report calling for...

Members of the MPs' Work and Pensions Committee praised only one part of the government's response to their report calling for greater openness on the progress of IT projects.

They were pleased that ministers promised to provide details of change requests made to the specification of the Child Support Agency's new CS2 IT system, which was provided by US-based outsourcing supplier EDS.

But the government's response may have misled the committee into believing that it will obtain details of all the relevant changes made on the contract.

In April, Computer Weekly revealed that after awarding the contract to EDS, the Child Support Agency had sought at least 2,500 unexpected changes in the design of systems that support the new "simplified" working processes within the agency.

This number was described as extraordinarily high by experts, who said it reflected badly on planning for the project.

In fact, the government has promised to provide details of change requests made in the last year only, when the number has been small by comparison with previous years.

It was ongoing problems with IT systems at the CSA and continuing complaints from MPs and the public about the CSA that prompted the Department for Work and Pensions select committee to launch its inquiry into IT project failures in November 2003.

The MPs focused on delays to CS2, but also wanted information on IT-based modernisation of the agency's parent organisation, the Department for Work and Pensions.

The new system was supposed to support simplified rules for calculating the payments made or received by divorced parents for their children.

Software for the system ran to 60 million lines of computer code. It went live, two years late, in March 2003. The department agreed a 7% increase in payments for the £456m private finance initiative scheme because the system had proved more com- plex to develop than originally thought.

Hundreds of thousands of parents are still waiting for their cases to be moved from the old to the new system. Many of them are paying more than they need to because their cases cannot be transferred.

The department has been withholding about £1m a month from EDS, which is 15%-20% of each monthly payment due. The supplier and the department said the systems are now more reliable than when first introduced, but the government has published little information on its internal assessments of the system.

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