‘Vulnerable people’ will be caught up in Universal Credit fiasco warns Oldham MP

In a report published on 9/4/14 the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which I am a member of, warns there remains worrying uncertainty about the hugely over-budget Universal Credit (UC) IT system and how vulnerable people will be supported to cope with the changes it brings.

The questions the government seem unable to answer around the proposed new IT system for UC are pretty basic but important questions such as how it will work; how much it will cost; and who will develop it? It’s very worrying that once again Iain Duncan Smith seems to have absolutely no idea what is going on in his own department.

National roll-out of UC was due to begin in October 2013. But problems with IT systems meant that major changes to the implementation timetable were made in July and then again in December 2013. Currently, UC claims are still limited to 10 Pathfinder Jobcentres – one of which is in Oldham.

New claims are not expected to be extended to the whole of Great Britain until 2016; and the bulk of existing claimants will not move over to UC until 2016-17.

The money wasted on Universal Credit so far is £40 million on IT software, that now has no use, and £90 million on software with a useful life of only 5 years and that is a shocking waste of public money. So much so that Work and Pensions Committee is asking the Government if it should consider whether it would be a better use of taxpayers’ money to abandon further development of the existing system and focus solely on the end-state solution it proposes.

It’s completely unacceptable that the Government has hampered the Committee’s scrutiny of UC implementation by not providing accurate, timely and detailed information at any stage.

After being told that everything was on track with the IT system in July last year, and then to have a damning National Audit Office report in September, the Committee was deeply concerned with the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith and his ministerial team’s lack of openness & transparency. We were not reassured that the governance issues identified last September have been addressed.

The Government has set out in the Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) how it envisages support for vulnerable people being provided in partnership with local authorities, housing providers and the voluntary sector.  However, there is, again, a distinct lack of detail about how the LSSF will operate in practice.  The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) must ensure that detailed information about the operation and funding of the LSSF is set out when the final version is published in autumn 2014.

Until that happens no-one will know how vulnerable people will be supported through the transition and that remains a key concern.  But, like the details around the Universal Credit IT system, it is still far from clear how this will work in practice or what funding will be provided for it.

Delays to UC implementation mean that local authorities will now administer housing benefit for much longer than anticipated. The report says the DWP needs to provide local authorities with clarity on the funding that will be available in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to cover this additional cost.

Local authorities, which were expecting new claims for housing benefit to have ended by April 2014, will now be administering it as a separate benefit until at least 2016. It is impossible for them to know how to handle their housing benefit departments until the Government clarifies what funding will be available.

Read the full report online here.

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