The government has completed a pilot of a citizen database due to hold records on 85 million people using a supplier involved in a previous IT programme which went £1.9bn over its original cost estimates.
The Department for Work and Pensions, the largest Whitehall department, and Accenture, are due to complete the first stages of their £72m Customer Information System (CIS) by October next year.
The Oracle database will have links to other government departments, be accessible by local authorities, and will hold what officials say are "extensive" records on 85 million people, including everyone with a national insurance number, the dead and their beneficiaries, and those who have moved abroad. It will include ethnic backgrounds and can have access to private sector databases.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs already plans to use it to trace offenders who have changed address without telling the courts.
A key aim of the project is to gain an overview of the personal details of people who receive part of more than £100bn paid out every year in state benefits and pensions.
These details are now held in different places, including the department's central index, its Personal Details Computer System, and mainframe-based benefit systems that have only limited links between them. This information will be brought into one database, the CIS, which will give civil servants a "whole-person" view of the personal details of claimants and others.
But a previous IT programme, a key aim of which was to provide a comprehensive view of claimants' details, ended up going £1.9bn over the original cost estimate. The Operational Strategy project was initiated by the Department of Social Security, the predecessor of the DWP, which employed as one of its main contractors Andersen Consulting, now Accenture.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was told that the Operational Strategy would cost £713m but the latest cost estimate for the period to 1998/1999 was £2.6bn. According to public spending watchdog the National Audit Office, the programme was never completed.
Last week Accenture and the DWP, in a joint statement, said the Operational Strategy was "very different" to the CIS. They added, "The CIS will bring together core customer information onto one database. This involves building one of the largest high-performance databases in Europe and a large series of web services."
The DWP hopes the system will provide information on citizens day and night, all year round. Today staff have only limited access to mainframe-based systems because they regularly go offline, usually for updating.
Councils will be able to use the CIS to check the addresses and identities of people who claim housing and council tax benefits. These links will replace existing links between local authorities and the department's databases, via remote access terminals in council offices, which the DWP said are slow and unreliable.
Accenture, working with Siebel, is also a main supplier of the DWP's £607m Pensions Transformation Project, which aims to change IT and ways of working to improve service to customers and cut costs.