Post by nickd (Mylegal) on May 24, 2014 16:55:52 GMT
Watchdog now treating universal credit as 'new project' after successive delays
Major Projects Authority lists government's flagship welfare reform as 'reset', meaning it is now considered a new scheme By Patrick Wintour 23rd May 2014
Iain Duncan Smith's flagship universal credit project has been beset with problems. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Universal credit, the government's recasting of the welfarebenefitssystem, has had to be reorganised so fundamentally that the government watchdog responsible for grading its implementation has judged that it is now an entirely new project.
In its annual assessment of the implementation of nearly 200 major infrastructure projects, the Major Projects Authority (MPA) has listed universal credit as "reset", the only one to be listed as going back to the drawing board. The scheme has been dogged with IT design faults, leading to successive delays.
The department said the classification of reset was simply reflecting the changes the DWP has already announced to make the scheme viable, including spreading the programme more slowly than previously planned. But it is the first time the MPA has had to use this classification, and suggests the universal credits scheme has been particularly dogged by problems among big government projects.
Universal credit aims to remove the barriers to the unemployed taking jobs by making work pay through the provision of means-tested support for those in and out of work.
The DWP said the MPA's judgment was out of date because it assessed the project last September, and since then there had been progress implementing the scheme through a limited number of pilots in jobcentres.
Universal credit brings together six benefits in a monthly payment, but problems have meant the DWP has been unable to extend the scheme beyond simple cases, primarily childless, unmarried, unemployed people.
The report says: "The 'reset' category has been applied to the universal credit project. We have undertaken significant work to develop a 'reset plan' to place the rollout of universal credit on a more secure footing, and the 'reset' delivery confidence assessment reflects this new status of the project."
The MPA was set up to bring greater transparency and effectiveness to major investment schemes implemented by civil servants. It rates major projects according to a traffic-light scheme of green, amber and red. Universal credit was previously marked as amber/red, meaning it was in danger of failure.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, says in a foreword to the MPA report assessing the overall state of projects: "We have made significant progress. This year, half of the projects with the most significant challenges improved, while our work to develop our people has meant we are relying less on costly consultants."
He added: "But we must not pretend problems don't exist. Instead, we must identify and address them early on before they become an issue. By being open and realistic about the challenges we face, we can find solutions."
The projects include infrastructure, education, IT and government change programmes. The report says: "The total aggregated, budgeted, whole-life costs of these major projects has been estimated at over £353.7bn, mainly in the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the DWP.
"Over the course of the year, 39 projects left the oversight programme due to completion, being redesigned into other projects or, in a few cases, being halted. The report shows that between September 2012 and September 2013 there was an increase in the percentage of projects rated amber/red and a decrease in the percentage rated green. The main reason for this is that 47 new projects joined the scheme this year. Since they are projects in the early stages of planning, we are naturally at this stage less confident in their delivery than in those projects that left the portfolio during the year."
The report goes on: "This time last year, we rated 31 projects red or amber/red. Of these 31 projects, more than half did better this year and only one has got worse."
A DWP spokesman said: "Universal credit is on track. The reset is not new but refers to the shift in the delivery plan and change in management back in early 2013.
"The reality is that universal credit is already making work pay as we roll it out in a careful and controlled way. It's already operating in 10 areas and will start expanding to the rest of the north-west in June.
"Jobseekers in other areas are already benefiting from some of its positive impacts through help from a work coach, more digital facilities in jobcentres, and a written agreement setting out what they will do to find work."
Questions will be asked on why the annual report has been published by Whitehall on Friday, as attention is focused on the local and European elections. The report has been ready for publication for some days, and the timing is likely to be seen as an attempt to bury bad news.
Officials claimed it was just essential to get the report into the public domain, and to overcome resistance from Whitehall civil servants. And Whitehall sources said the government had no choice but to publish the report around now since Whitehall was in purdah during the local election period.
"Its implementation has been extraordinarily poor," chair Margaret Hodge said.
"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."
He made the admission that the project was being drip-fed money by the Treasury after Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, repeatedly pressed senior civil servants about its financial status.
It the latest sign that the Treasury is keeping a very close eye on universal credit, the responsibility of work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, after it was criticised by the National Audit Office for its "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance".
After write-downs and IT problems, the plan to merge six benefit payments into one had to be completely "reset" and will be introduced much more slowly than originally planned.
Esther McVey, an employment minister, has previously claimed the "strategic outline business case" for universal credit has been approved until the end of this parliament.
However, in a parliamentary hearing, Kerslake acknowledged: "We shouldn't beat about the bush: it hasn't been signed off. What we've had is a set of conditional reassurances about progress and the Treasury have released money accordingly. That is one of the key controls."
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, said the Treasury and the Cabinet Office's Major Projects Authority "played a very, very clear role in bringing it to the attention" of Duncan Smith that the project was "way off track" at the start of last year. However, he said it was a good example where the most senior people in Whitehall had "intervened very strongly" to help sort it out.
Heywood also admitted that Duncan Smith's department had mishandled Atos contracts, which has been responsible for delays in the implementation of a new personal independence payment to the disabled. He said there was an issue about whether the department responsible was "sufficiently alive to the emerging picture".
"That comes down, in my view, to: first of all, was there, before the thing became a project to start with, before it became announced as a priority of the government, was there a sufficiently hard-headed assessment done at the gateway stage? Secondly, there is the perennial problem of whether we had adequate timely real-time information as to what was going on," he added.
Universal credit has the support of all the major parties but Labour has pledged to "pause" and conduct a three-month review if it wins the general election.
Chris Bryant, shadow minister for welfare reform, said it was "more evidence of the chaos surrounding universal credit".
"It raises worrying questions about George Osborne's refusal to endorse his government's flagship welfare reform scheme," he said. 'It's time forDavid Cameron to call in the National Audit Office as a matter of urgency to get to the bottom of the true extent of the chaos surrounding universal credit."
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Sept 3, 2014 17:08:48 GMT
Iain Duncan Smith insists Universal Credit sign-off due ‘very shortly’
Now five months since HM Treasury received full business case for welfare reform plan
By Charlotte Jee 2nd September 2014
Iain Duncan Smith has insisted that HM Treasury is due to sign off the full business case for Universal Credit ‘very shortly’ despite it being five months since it was submitted.
In a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, the work and pensions minister explained: “The final stage in Treasury approvals is sign-off of the full business case, which covers the full lifetime of the programme.”
He added: “I genuinely believe, from my discussions, that it will be signed off very shortly.”
However opposition MPs rubbished the claim.
Labour MP Nicholas Brown said: “The answer to a similar question two months ago was “very shortly”, but it is taking rather longer than the secretary of state intended.”
Chris Bryant MP said that the programme “is being kept on a life-support system, and all he [Duncan Smith] can say is that the Treasury has guaranteed another 247 days of funding, with nothing beyond the end of this parliament.”
During a select committee hearing in July, then civil service head Sir Bob Kerslake admitted that Universal Credit, which aims to merge six benefits into one payment, is being drip-fed funding by HM Treasury as it receives updates and assurances on progress.
During a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session he admitted: “We shouldn't beat about the bush. It hasn't been signed off. What we've had is a set of conditional reassurances about progress and the Treasury have released money accordingly.”
A week later it emerged that Kerslake is due to step down from the civil service this autumn.
Figures published by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) last month showed that the number of people claiming Universal Credit has dropped to the slowest rate since July last year, with just 540 individuals starting to claim the benefit in May.
According to shadow work and pensions minister Rachel Reeves, at the current rate of progress it will take over 1,000 years for the welfare programme to be rolled out across the country.
But Labour said: “This is a lie to cover up the failures of the Universal Credit programme.”
And they insist that to avoid misleading Parliament Mr Duncan Smith must issue a correction.
Last year’s Department for Work and Pensions annual report said £40million has had to be written off.
And it predicted another £91million is set to be poured down the drain.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “He has serious questions to answer over the millions of pounds of taxpayers money that has been wasted.
“It’s time for ministers to give straight answers and to finally get a grip of this failing project.”
Universal Credit is the biggest overhaul of benefits since the 1940s and all eight million claimants should receive it by the end of 2017.
It will be go directly into bank accounts and be paid once a month rather than fortnightly or weekly.
A DWP spokesman said: "Universal Credit is already making work pay in one in ten jobcentres and will be rolled out nationally form next year. When fully in place the economy will benefit by £7bn each year."
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Nov 26, 2014 22:05:50 GMT
Crisiswhatcrisis? Iain Duncan Smith tries to bat off Rachel Reeves’ questions
Work and pensions secretary sings his own praises a day before critical National Audit Office report on universal credit By John Crace 26th November 2014
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was scornful of any criticism of his plans in the Commons. Photograph: David Gadd/Allstar/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, has been desperate for revenge on Iain Duncan Smith ever since he refused to apologise for accusing her of missing a Commons vote by having her nails done in Rochester. She might be wishing she had waited one more day before making him come to the House for an update on the rollout of universal credit.
Earlier in the day, the work and pensions secretary had announced a further rollout of UC in the north-west – the ideal pilot area as there is no electoral downside for the Tories if it goes horribly wrong. Everything was going better than better, the unemployed and the homeless were queueing up to thank him and the project was on time and on budget. As there is no surer sign of things going hideously wrong than Duncan Smith trumpeting his brilliance, Reeves felt it as well to probe a little deeper.
In his own mind, Duncan Smith is a towering intellect who is still in the running to be prime minister and anyone who questions that world view is treated with scorn. As he has yet to find anyone who shares it, he is generally obliged to be patronising. His condescension is metered, however; the softer the voice and the more words delivered per minute, the greater his levels of scorn. Yesterday he was at his quietest and fastest.
“Newrolloutsuccessfulexpansion,” he muttered, barely bothering to look up. “Twiceasmuchtimelookingforwork. Ourplansareontrackthebusinesscasehasbeensignedoff. Deriskingtherollout.” He sat down with the sigh of a man whose time had been wasted. In response, Reeves was more deliberate and glacial – a high-risk option for someone even her friends consider dull. “It’s a complete and utter shambles,” she said. “The delivery of this policy will not be completed until the end of the decade – if then – and with only, and I quote, ‘the bulk’ of claimants on legacy benefits transferred by 2019. What does he mean by bulk? Is it a new statistical term? Could he repeat his assertion that the programme will be on time and on budget?”
Duncan Smith obliged. “I’m happy to go through this nonsense again with you,” he said, now speaking more slowly for the benefit of the few Tory backbenchers who had stayed behind in the House to offer their support. “Nothing has been hidden. Everything is on time and on budget. The Treasury has signed it off.”
But the National Audit Office hasn’t. Could it be, asked Margaret Hodge, that Duncan Smith had chosen to big up his UC programme today to deflect any possible criticism ahead of the NAO report that was coming out the next day? Heaven forbid, Duncan Smith gasped. He was only here because Reeves had made him come. “I couldn’t possibly second-guess the NAO report,” he simpered. “But I’m sure it will be extremely positive and I hope every future government programme will be delivered with the same success.”
Everyone in the house knew this wasn’t quite true. Or at all true.
Read more of IDS's forthcoming demise in the Guardian
The Department for Work & Pensions has reset Universal Credit on a sounder basis but at significant cost, by extending the time for implementation and choosing a more expensive approach. It is now vital that the Department quickly establish clear goals for delivering the programme, in terms of cost, time and functionality, against which it can be held to account.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 26 November 2014
The National Audit Office has concluded that it is too early to determine if the Department for Work & Pensions will achieve value for money in its implementation of the Universal Credit programme.
The Department set out to transform the benefits system with Universal Credit and suffered early setbacks. Since the reset in early 2013, it has reduced the delivery risks by significantly extending its timetable for introducing Universal Credit and choosing a more expensive twin-track approach: the roll-out of its ‘live service’ (which uses pre-2013 IT assets), while at the same time developing its new ‘digital service’.
The DWP believes the additional costs of this approach are justified because it expects Universal Credit to achieve substantial benefits for society sooner and more safely. However, such potential benefits do not mean Universal Credit will be value for money regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so.
Since the reset in early 2013, the Department has developed and refined its ‘test and learn’ approach while continuing to expand its live service. The Department was slow to produce long-term plans for the future services and HM Treasury required the programme to produce more realistic plans before it approved the business case in September 2014.
In the longer term, the DWP has reduced risks in its planned transfer of most tax credit claimants to Universal Credit by extending the timetable by two years to the end of 2019. It was becoming increasingly unlikely that the DWP could transfer over one million tax credit claimants on to Universal Credit in April 2016 as planned without significant operational risks.
The Department’s digital service has been delayed and is still in the very early stages of development. At this early stage it will depend heavily on manual intervention and will handle only a small number of claims – but it is soon to be tested with all claimant types, even the most complex. The timetable is challenging, with the Department planning to start to roll out its fully scalable digital service in just 18 months time. It expects significant savings from its digital service, but does not yet have a contingency plan should the digital service be delayed or fail. It has not evaluated whether it could use the live service instead. The NAO estimates that using live service systems, without further investment, could cost £2.8 billion more in staff costs.
In principle, the DWP’s approach should allow it to learn from experience, improve the design and readiness of services and reduce risks. Given the gradual progress of the past year and the early stage of digital development, the Department has not yet tested its new digital approach, or gone through the process of integrating this with live service.
The NAO finds that the Department has continued to struggle to stabilize senior leadership roles and responsibilities. However, it has taken a more active approach to managing suppliers and establishing financial control within the programme. Among the NAO’s recommendations is that the Department ensure it has a clear basis for making decisions across the strands of the programme.
The project was already ‘reset’ by Major Projects Authority the in February 2013, in response to concerns about it falling six months behind schedule. According to the NAO report, the project stalled because of low staffing levels.
The identity assurance service is key to reducing the civil service resources required to enter the data for new claims – and thus to making a fast roll-out viable: “The new digital service at this stage depends heavily on manual intervention and will only handle a small number of claims,” says the NAO.
The department adopted a “twin-track” approach in November 2013 using the live IT systems established for Universal Credit and the yet-to-launch digital service in a bid to get the project back on schedule.
DWP has explained that the accelerated roll out means that “by Spring 2015 one in three of the country’s jobcentres will be taking claims for the new benefit”.
Should the digital service fail to hit its 18-month deadline, the department may be forced to rely solely on the live service. The NAO estimates that this would cost an additional £2.8bn in staff costs.
While highlighting the cross-party support for Universal Credit, Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP pointed to the mounting cost of completing the project: “The department’s unacceptably poor management of this programme has wasted time and taxpayers’ money, with a staggering £600m spent in 4 years just to get to the first stage of business case sign-off.
“Now the department is throwing good money after bad by introducing a short-term fix with no adequate plan for delivery, insufficient skills and unclear milestones to measure progress against.”
DWP has stressed: “The NAO report recognises that we are reducing risks and making progress. In terms of value for money, when fully in place the economy will benefit by £7bn each year and is set to make 3 million families better off on average £177 a month.”
To reduce problems after the roll out, the department has extended the time allotted to transfer the first million tax credit claimants on to Universal Credit. The task was originally scheduled to be completed by April 2016, but will now continue to 2019.
The DWP start testing for the digital service this week.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jan 4, 2015 19:56:26 GMT
Latest Universal Credits figures released in silence
Hiding yet more escalating chaos?
Unsurprisingly, another of IDS's 'reforms' appears to have something in common with all others....
Queues of claimants.....
Despite all the noise Iain Duncan Smith makes over how Universal Credit is going to miraculously turn around millions of lives whilst delivering us all terrific savings of billions of pounds, the DWP remained remarkably silent over the release of their latest batch of Universal Credits statistics which were put out just before Christmas on the 17th December 2014.
Naturally, the headlines are as good as the DWP can make them. They chose to promote how "between April 2013 and 11 December 2014, a total of 44,330 people have made a claim for Universal Credit".
It's little wonder Duncan Smith and the DWP crew are driven to desperate measures by more actively promoting the 'claims' figure of 44,330 rather than the actual number of claimants who have started on Universal Credit; a considerably lower figure of 25,890. Of the number of starters as of the 13th November 2014, 22,900 still remain on Universal Credit.
But why, with a new benefit and with such low numbers, are we even in a position where people are awaiting processing of their claims to the point where they haven't yet registered as starters? There's a common thread in all of IDS's reforms, each one involves thousands of people awaiting a proper outcome on their claim - there is absolutely no excuse for claim or processing delays given the simplicity of most of the claims already put through Universal Credit processing.
The DWP attempts to make the best of an appalling job by telling people how "7,300 (32%) were in employment and 15,600 (68%) were not in employment." What of course they don't tell you is how many people are in work because of Universal Credit.
It should be noted that whilst the DWP quote headline figures up to the 6th November 2014, the accompanying data tables (which you should definitely download for proper analysis) relate in the main to the period May to October 2014 with 17,850 as the live caseload as of October 2014, a cumulative total of 20,540 starters, and out of 17,850 selected starters, 10,640 had been on the benefit up to 3 months, 1,860 from 3 to 6 months and 5,350 for over 6 months.
Universal Credit has recently been extended to include a small number of families of fairly simple circumstances. What they don't tell you is how a person already in work who say becomes eligible for Working Tax Credits or Housing Benefits (quite possibly because of a drop in wage levels) will now, in selected areas, have to claim Universal Credit instead of the usual Tax Credits or Housing Benefits. They will not have magically found work merely by virtue of being a Universal Credit claimant - in other words the '32% in employment' statement should be treated with as much caution as everything else the DWP and IDS say when bigging up any of their failing welfare reforms.