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26 November 2014updated 24 Jul 2021 1:19am

Iain Duncan Smith is at risk of wasting billions on the Universal Credit scheme

The public spending watchdog has found further woes for the government's flagship welfare reforms programme.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Every week is a bad week for Universal Credit, the government’s flagship scheme to reform the way it provides welfare, but this week has been particularly bad.

The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was questioned yet again on his programme’s slow progress, after it emerged that families would only just be able to start claiming this week, and even then, only in parts of the northwest. He then had to go on to admit to parliament that the scheme would only be complete by the end of the decade, missing his 2017 target.

And now the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), has found that there is the danger of his Department wasting billions on the programme, which has already lost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds due to botched IT developments.

The NAO found in its report:

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.

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And here’s that challenging timetable, according to the NAO:

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Claimants on Universal Credit in October 2014: 17,850

Claimants planned to be on Universal Credit by April 2016: 500,000

Claimants planned to be on Universal Credit by December 2019: 7m