Charities, housing associations and consultancies have warned that the Department for Work and Pensions’ £2.2bn Universal Credit programme has all the hallmarks of another public sector IT disaster.
The warnings come amid mounting concerns that the programme is floundering, with government sources reporting that one of its key suppliers has failed to deliver, reports of significant budget overrun and a shake-up to the project’s top leadership team.
At a recent roundtable, organised by Stone Group, bodies working closely with organisations due be impacted by the forthcoming roll-out of Universal Credit raised concerns that the programme will struggle to be delivered .
Chris Yapp, a consultant with wide experience working with public sector groups, has been working with local authorities to prepare for the changes. He compared the programme to that of the failed National Programme for IT. “The number of interdependencies is enormous compared with that of the NPfIT,” he said.
He said the project lacked clarity of governance: “You can’t run the project with vague generalisations, which is what happened with the NPfIT.”
“I think we have to wait for the shit to hit the fan, frankly. Because [we can’t] persuade the DWP at the moment it is not working.”
Peter Hall, director at consultancy PHHSL, said the DWP had failed to acknowledge the complexities involved in joining up the various different systems. “There’s been a failure to acknowledge the regional variation and that you cannot impose one central system on so many different organisations,” he said.
Gerald Power, owner of digital consultancy Trapeze Transformation, has been working with organisations due to be impacted by the programme.
“The politicians won’t break rank until it’s obviously a train wreck then they will come out the bunker and ask for solutions,” he said.
Scott Mckinven, financial inclusion manager at Affinity Sutton Housing Association, said there are concerns that many residents will be unable to access the internet to receive welfare payments.
“We are finding a lot of residents can’t afford to get online, their phone lines are not active, which cost £100 to activate and then there are the line rental fees, when all they want to do is use broadband for £3-£4 per month.”
He added the body was finding it difficult to get a full-picture of who will be affected because local authorities have different approaches to data sharing. “The data sharing side is complex. Some local authorities share data happily, while others won’t. How can we work with [them] if [they] won’t give us the data,” he said.
But the DWP has insisted that the programme will be delivered on time and on budget.