The IT underpinning the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) Work Programme was not fully functional when the scheme was launched and some of its key functionality is still not available, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.
The Work Programme, introduced in 2011, was intended to replace almost all welfare to work schemes run by the DWP in England, Scotland and Wales and support unemployed people who have been claiming Jobseeker's Allowance or Employment Support Allowance in finding jobs.
Rather than introduce new IT for the programme, the DWP decided to upgrade existing systems "because it concluded that this approach would be comparatively cheaper and quicker to introduce", the report says.
The DWP had originally planned to set out the specifications for the IT system by January 2010. However, requirements weren't published until April that year due to delays in determining the precise requirements.
"The pace at which the department introduced IT for the programme was out of step with the introduction of the rest of the programme. The department decided not to have all of the IT in place for the programme's start because it considered that waiting would have negated the benefits of the programme's early adoption," the report adds.
The IT system that will allow management information to be gathered on the programme – necessary to gauge its performance and that of its providers – will now not be in place until July 2012. Originally estimated to cost £4.6m, the budget for the system now stands as £8.6m after the DWP "underestimated the complexity of the project".
Without the management information system, the DWP won't be able to generate accurate information on how many people have found and kept jobs through the Work Programme until September 2012 at the earliest.
Automatic checks to find out whether people have found jobs and stop claiming benefits, triggering payments to contractors, will not go live before March 2012. Until that time, the DWP will be relying on manual submissions from providers.
Without those automatic checks, the DWP is liable to an increased risk of fraud and error. "The department should develop and carry out preventative controls to reduce the likelihood of fraud and error and make sure that planned improvements to IT are made on time," the report says.
The DWP estimates that it will pay £60m to contractors up to March 2012. It will perform retrospective checks on the payments to confirm whether job seekers have started work, and will adjust the amounts paid in light of what the checks find. About 10% of such payments could fail the check, according to the department.
The NAO says the DWP should learn from its problems with programme. "The department should identify the main lessons from this experience and, in line with current good practice, should adopt a more agile and timely approach to managing IT," it says.
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
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