MPs demand action on DWP mess

MPs are demanding action after a routine software upgrade at the Department for Work and Pensions left 80% of desktop PCs unable...

MPs are demanding action after a routine software upgrade at the Department for Work and Pensions left 80% of desktop PCs unable to link to core mainframe-based social security systems.

The failure, which hit 80,000 desktops, led to delays in payments to new claimants and to some cheques having to be raised manually.

Alexis Cleveland, chief executive of the DWP, played down last week's disruption and said it was caused by a "small change" and had "blown out of all proportion".

But it was embarrassing for the department whose minister Alan Johnson earlier this month appeared before the Commons work and pensions committee and apologised for IT failures at the DWP's Child Support Agency.

The failure was also embarrassing for the department's IT partner EDS which was due to deliver a major software release for the CSA computer systems on 6 December. The upgrade aims to allow the transfer of thousands of cases from the agency's old systems to its new one.

Cleveland's effort to minimise last week's problems produced an angry response from Tory MP Richard Bacon, a senior member of the Public Accounts Committee. He expressed astonishment that a minor modification could cause such a disproportionately large failure.

Steve Webb MP, Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions spokesman said, "Once again vulnerable people have been let down by the DWP and its computer chaos. Scarcely a week goes by without another example of agovernment computer system overseen by well-paid consultants leaving people's finances in a mess," Webb said.

"This is the latest in a long line of shambles, including the National Insurance system, tax credits and, most recently, the Child Support Agency."

Webb called for independent scrutiny of the DWP IT systems to "get this mess sorted out once and for all".

Ministers, civil servants and the Office of Government Commerce told the PAC earlier this month that they were opposed to the publication of Gateway reviews - OGC assessments of government IT projects at key stages in their lifecycle.

Microsoft said it had worked around the clock with the department and EDS to rectify the problem.

By Friday (26 November), technical experts from the DWP's IT partners Microsoft and EDS had begun a due diligence process to discover what caused the systems failure.

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