Delivery of Universal Credit, which brings radical change to the UK benefits system, is being strengthened with leadership changes and a more focused implementation programme. This is a response to concerns across Whitehall that the project may be heading for disaster.
The Department for Work and Pensions is introducing Universal Credit to simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.
The Department has just appointed its third CIO to lead the project, following the death of the previous CIO. It has now announced the additional appointment of the chief executive of the Major Projects Authority to supervise Universal Credit.
The latest implementation plan provides for the testing phase to start in April with national delivery starting in October 2013. There will then be six monthly increments of national delivery. But the testing phase will now be restricted to a small number of simple Jobseekers Allowance claims. Councils have been told that the impact of Universal Credit in 2013/14 will be slight and this indicates that implementation will be staged to allow changes to be made as the project progresses.
Apart from concerns about technology there are doubts about how people will cope with a service that relies entirely on the Internet. There are also concerns about security.
Ross Parsell, Director of Cyber Security at Thales UK, believes that managing identity will prove a major challenge. He said: “Being able to verify, manage and protect the identity of claimants will be central to the success of Universal Credit. Currently, it is possible to apply for a passport or renew a driving licence or tax disc online. However, all these examples are cases where citizens make payments to the government.”
“Administering such payments online could present fraud risk. For example, an elderly person not savvy with computers might be vulnerable to a criminal knocking on the door to supposedly help him or her out with the Universal Credit process. With 1.56 million people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance at a minimum of £56.25 a week, just that element of welfare presents a £4.56 billion fraud risk over the course of a year.”