Child maintenance IT system costs double, says NAO

The cost of the IT systems underpinning the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) have nearly doubled to £275m, according to the National Audit Office.

The forecast costs of the IT systems underpinning the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) have nearly doubled to £275m, according to the National Audit Office.

But plans by the CMEC to reduce its spending are high risk as they rely heavily on the introduction of a new child maintenance scheme and associated IT system, said the NAO. “IT costs have increased and the commission risks repeating some of the mistakes made on the earlier child maintenance schemes,” said the report.

CMEC became the government body responsible for collecting money from absent parents after the Child Support Agency's computer systems became notoriously defective during the past decade, causing some cases to disappear from its records. A second database was then built to address this problem. However, following data migration issues, a further third database was developed, which involved staff having to hand process claims.

The commission has had to operate two separate child maintenance schemes using flawed IT systems and is implementing a new child maintenance scheme and associated IT system to improve service delivery. In January 2011, the commission forecast the new IT system would come to around £149m, by October estimates reached £275m.

Due to flaws in the IT systems for each scheme, some 100,000 cases have had to be processed separately by clerical staff at a cost of £48 million. The commission is developing a new child maintenance scheme and associated IT system to replace the two existing schemes.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Faced with a challenging but achievable target for reducing its spending, the CMEC is relying heavily on the introduction of fees to parents, underpinned by a new IT system. This is a high risk approach with no contingencies if it goes awry.”

Agile methods employed by the commission from mid-2011 may not be enough to sufficiently address the IT problems, it said. The commission must undertake critical testing in parallel with programme delivery to meet the implementation date.

A CMEC spokesman said the £149m figure did not include major elements of the programme, such as all of the system testing costs and facilities for the production of management information. "We also added budgetary provision for future policy-driven enhancements and other system upgrades in the later forecast. We have pointed this out to NAO," he said.

"We would also point out that the Office of Government Commerce concluded in July 2011 that  general programme management and governance were strong," he added.  

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