The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is having to employ more than 100 staff at a cost of £1.3m to manually check data about the welfare benefits cap because of delays in developing the IT system for Universal Credit.
The staff are having to take data from systems run by DWP, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and local authorities to identify households affected by the benefit cap introduced in April. A manual check is required before sending the data to councils for the cap to be put into effect.
The costs were revealed in an answer to a Parliamentary question submitted by Labour MP Stephen Doughty.
In response, work and pensions minister Mark Hoban said the checks will be required “until such time that an automated solution is developed and introduced” – which means the costs could increase further if the system is not in place by April 2014.
The processing of benefits cap data is due to be covered by the Universal Credit IT programme, which has been delayed amid rumours of major problems behind the scenes.
"DWP is undergoing the most serious IT crisis of any government department in years,” said shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms.
"Universal Credit is already on its knees. Ministers admit they don't have a clue how or when this problem will be solved, and once again the taxpayer is picking up the bill to clean up the mess. We need urgent assurances that this latest IT disaster won't put the whole scheme at risk."
The Universal Credit IT project has been beset with delays and rumours of problems. The DWP insists the programme is on track, despite reducing the scope of the initial trials and putting back plans that, from October 2013, all new applications for out-of-work support would be treated as Universal Credit claims.
Just this week, a leaked survey of staff working on Universal Credit revealed evidence of demotivated and unhappy staff, critical of managers and complaining of work being binned and a lack of strategic leadership.
But the new head of the project, Howard Shiplee – who was brought in following the departure of several senior executives on the programme – told MPs on the work and pensions select committee last month there was no substance behind reports of IT problems.
“No, that is not the case. We are currently reviewing all that has been built,” Shiplee told the committee.
“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,” he said.