Head of Universal Credit denies IT problems

Howard Shiplee tells the work and pensions select committee all is well, denying reports of the failing IT system behind Universal Credit

The director general of the government’s Universal Credit programme has denied problems with the IT platform.

A number of reports have surfaced citing issues with the system, from changing direction away from agile software and contractors being told to stop working on the project, to the budget getting out of hand and costing six times the original figure.

However, Howard Shiplee – the fourth person to head up the project in just six months – has denied any technical disasters behind the scenes.

Answering to the chair of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee, Anne Begg, who asked whether there was substance behind the reports, the executive said: “No, that is not the case. We are currently reviewing all that has been built.

“The existing systems that we have are working, and working effectively. What we are now looking at is how we can make sure that our existing systems, our legacy systems and the systems that have been built over the last 18 months [are maximised] and to ensure that we can dock the new systems that we are designing into those and the legacy systems.”

Yet, there were still questions around whether the Universal Credit IT project would be completed by the deadlines set by parliament.

The work and pensions minister, Iain Duncan Smith, and parliamentary under-secretary of state for welfare reform, Lord Freud, described to the committee how they planned to test the IT system over the coming months and slowly try out more complex cases than the current test bed of jobseeker’s allowance claimants.

However, Begg complained that they were moving too slowly to hit targets for 2014 and to get the whole system implemented by 2017: "We would rather that you get it right than rush it. However, there is rushing it and [there is] snail’s pace.”

Duncan Smith snapped back at the chair, saying: “This committee has constantly said they don’t want to see us go too fast on this. We are not snail pacing. There has been a lot we have learned already… [but] the real point here is we could stick rigidly to a summary plan in 2011 or say the purpose is to deliver 2013 to 2017.”

“We want to get into large volumes next year… but get to that in a safe and secure way. [This] is why we are rolling out in the way we are rolling out."

Today, the DWP announced a further six job centres would trial the Universal Credit system from October – although it seems this will just be for jobseeker's allowance benefits – and 20,000 employees would be trained both use it and train others to do so.  

It also said plans were being put into action to work with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to ensure the system kept up to date with changes in technology.

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