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PAC urges DWP to explain policy changes impacting Universal Credit rollout

David Bicknell Published 04 November 2016

Watchdog sets 2017 deadlines for DWP to explain impact of delays on operational costs, staff and claimants and detail how it is addressing staff testing and learning concerns

 

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to be clearer about what policy changes that have impacted the rollout of Universal Credit.

In a Universal Credit and fraud and error progress review report , the parliamentary watchdog called for an explanation in the rollout delay which the department has put down to policy changes announced a year ago.

It said, “We reported in February 2016 that the department had again delayed the programme and that it then expected Universal Credit to be fully operational by March 2021. However, on 20 July 2016, the day we took oral evidence on this inquiry, the department released a written Ministerial Statement setting out further delays to the rollout of Universal Credit.

“The Department now plans to continue to roll out its full service to around 5 jobcentres per month until July 2017 rather than February 2017. This delay means that the department now expects to complete the roll-out of the programme in March 2022, a year later than when we last reported.”

The PAC said the department had maintained that policies introduced in the Summer 2015 Budget had changed the scope of the programme and required additional time. But these changes were not reflected in the outline business case submitted the Treasury in September 2015.

It went on, “The department denies that it is attributing wider operational problems to policy changes and claims that internal reviews found that without these changes the department had been on track for scaling up the full service from February 2017. But a flexible system should be able to cope with a degree of policy change. The department needs to be clearer about what policy change it can incorporate without delay. Given the length of time taken to implement the programme some policy change is likely and we need a clearer picture of the impact on timetable.”

The committee said the department should set out by March 2017 what impact these delays will have on operational costs, staff and claimants on both Universal Credit and legacy systems.

The committee also set a May 2017 deadline for the department to inform it of the action it takes to ensure that there are “sufficient opportunities for staff to engage in testing and learning processes.”

It follows written evidence received by the committee that staff are concerned about what they say is a lack of training, with the pressures of work preventing adequate testing and learning within the new service.

The committee said, “Systems underpinning Universal Credit are still underdeveloped and there are signs of pressure on staff. We welcome the fact that the department has changed its mind and has now accepted our recommendations and those made by the previous committee concerning the need for better contingency planning. But the department still has a long way to go before systems will be ready to scale up Universal Credit significantly; we heard, for example, that only 25% of claims in the new full service are paid automatically.”

It recommended that, “Before the speed at which Universal Credit is rolled out is increased, the department should ensure that there is sufficient opportunities for staff to engage in testing and learning processes, and set out for the committee what it has done to address staff concerns. The department should write to the committee to inform it of action taken by May 2017.”








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