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IT bungle left dole office unable to check benefits for months

Tech delay hit DWP's Work Programme

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Late delivery of IT to support the Work Programme left it without a system to carry out automated checks on whether people - who had been placed into work by the programme's 18 prime contractors - had stopped claiming benefits.

A report by the public accounts committee, which draws similar conclusions to a National Audit Office review earlier this year, says that the IT system was not in use until about nine months after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched the programme in June last year. In addition, the report says that the programme was not piloted, the design and development phases overlapped and the business case was devised after the decision to go ahead had been made.

The Work Programme, designed to help long-term unemployed people into sustainable employment, replaced virtually all welfare-to-work programmes run by the DWP.

Over the next five years, the DWP expects the programme to help up to 3.3m people into work at a cost of between £3bn and £5bn.

Reliable data on performance will not be available until autumn 2012, some 15 months after the Work Programme started. The committee calls on the DWP to provide assurance that payments to contractors are correct before effective monitoring systems are in place.

"The department now needs to demonstrate that, in the face of changes in the volumes of referrals to the programme and changes in economic conditions, it can still hold prime contractors to the delivery promises they made," the report says.

"The department also needs to demonstrate that payments to contractors are valid and correct."

It adds that the DWP's plans to implement universal credit in autumn 2013 could lead to major changes to the Work Programme's claimant groups and payment regime.

"Any changes the department makes must address our concerns regarding the quality of service for all participants and the value for money for taxpayers," the committee says.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the public accounts committee, said: "The speed with which the Work Programme was introduced was commendable. But the quick introduction threw up risks that have to be addressed."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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