Monday, October 27, 2014

Leaked universal credit memo shows jobcentre staff struggling with rollout

Jobcentre whistleblower tells Dispatches that computerised benefits scheme is ‘unworkable, poorly designed and out of date

A leaked staff memo at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appears to show the government is still struggling to roll out its flagship welfare programme, Universal Credit (UC), across the UK.

The memo, seen by the Guardian and titled: “Ideas please: Sinking”, appears to be a plea from a jobcentre manager to her staff for solutions to tackle an ever-growing workload brought about by the new system for delivering social security to more than 7 million people.

The internal email, sent in late September and uncovered by Channel 4’s Dispatches as part of an investigation into UC to air on Monday evening, appears to show that one of the 60 centres where the scheme has been rolled out is generating such a substantial backlog of claims, centre staff will have to work three times more than their limit to clear it.

UC, which is projected to generate £7bn in economic growth to the UK, will combine six major benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit, into a single payment which will rise and fall more smoothly with people’s circumstances.

The DWP had promised to have 1 million people on the scheme by April 2014 but, dogged by delays and tens of millions of pounds of IT write-downs and write-offs, the original timetable has been scrapped. Just 15,000 people are on the system.

Last week, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, declared that the project would not be tied to a final delivery date. “Arbitrary dates and deadlines are the enemy of secure delivery,” he said.

A jobcentre employee has alleged that the UC claims process, which is meant to save the government hundreds of millions in staff costs by being highly computerised, is unable to handle complicated cases. The whistleblower told Dispatches:“The IT works for single claimants, the straightforward cases. More complex claims have to be done manually. That’s slow and easy to get wrong.”

He added that UC’s IT for staff on the ground is “completely unworkable, badly designed”, and already “out of date”...