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07 November 2013

CHC respond to 'Universal Credit Early Progress' report

Today the Public Accounts Committee have launched a report looking at 'Universal Credit Early Progress'.

The main findings as noted by Committee chair, The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, are as follows:

  • “Universal Credit is the DWP’s single biggest programme and enjoys cross-party support, yet its implementation has been extraordinarily poor.
  • “The failure to develop a comprehensive plan has led to extensive delay and the waste of a yet to be determined amount of public money. £425 million has been spent so far on the programme. It is likely that much of this, including at least £140 million worth of IT assets, will now have to be written off.
  • “The management of the programme has been alarmingly weak. From the outset, the Department has failed to grasp the nature and enormity of the task; failed to monitor and challenge progress regularly; and, when problems arose, failed to intervene promptly. Lack of day-to-day control meant early warning signs were missed, with senior managers becoming aware of problems only through ad hoc reviews.
  • “Pressure to deliver a programme of this magnitude within such an ambitious timescale created a fortress culture where only good news was reported and problems were denied. Because they had no overall view of what was going on and no system to monitor progress, the Department’s Universal Credit team became isolated and defensive.
  • “We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.
  • “There has been a shocking absence of control over suppliers, with the Department failing to implement the most basic procedures for monitoring and authorising expenditure. In some cases multi-million pound orders were approved by secretarial staff. Individual payments could not even be linked to particular pieces of work that had been delivered.
  • “The pilot programme is not a proper pilot. Its scope is limited to only the simplest new claims of people who are single, have no dependants and would otherwise be seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • “It lacks the security components needed to prevent fraudulent claims and protect individuals’ personal information.
  • “It does not deal with the key issues that Universal Credit must address: the volume of claims; their complexity; change in claimants’ circumstances; and the need for claimants to meet conditions for continuing entitlement to benefit. The Department needs a revised pilot that is capable of properly informing the full roll-out of Universal Credit.
  • The programme will not hit its current target of enrolling 184,000 claimants by April 2014. The Department will have to speed up the later stages of the programme if it is to meet the 2017 completion date but that will pose new risks.
  • The Department needs to focus on the long-term successful implementation of Universal Credit. It should evaluate what benefit it can derive from the existing IT but must not throw good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix that does not stand the test of time.

Responding to the report, CHC’s Head of Policy, Amanda Oliver says:

“This is a damning report but, unfortunately, not at all surprising. The findings reinforce our concerns about Universal Credit – the lack of a clear and realistic project timetable and the size and scope of the demonstration projects has made it increasingly difficult for our members to prepare their tenants and plan their resources. It really is ironic that the DWP expects Universal Credit claimants to get their house and finances in order when they are clearly struggling to cope with the changes themselves.

Moving forward we believe that the DWP needs to provide concise information on progress with Universal Credit - what’s working and what’s not, and ensure that every single element of Universal Credit is tried and tested before it is rolled out, without rushing to meet the deadline of 2017. We have also previously expressed concern about direct payments under Universal Credit, where housing benefit would be paid direct to tenants and not to the landlord. We believe that tenants should have the choice and are today reiterating this call as research by the consultancy Policis found that nine out of ten social housing tenants want their housing benefit to continue to be paid directly to their landlord.”

To read the full report visit:

DWP’s response: