back to article UK's Universal Credit IT may go downhill soon, warns think tank report

The IT underpinning Blighty's troubled Universal Credit programme could soon begin to creak as the programme takes on more complex claimant cases, a think tank report from the left-wing Resolution Foundation has found. The report, Making a success of Universal Credit, noted that from today, Universal Credit looks very …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Universal Credit IT may go downhill soon"


    "Making a success of Universal Credit"

    Definitely a Sir Humphrey job.

    1. J P

      My thought was more "how?" As I understand it, a significant proportion of claimants are still being processed manually because the IT can't do the job yet at all. Not sure quite how it could get worse...

      1. Skoorb

        Rewriting all the rules isn't helping

        From what I understand from someone “with knowledge” of the thing, there are two main problems:

        - The IT

        - The Rules

        Ignoring the IT for a moment, the whole point of UC involves a complete rewrite of the DWPs rulebook, developed over many years from the end of the Second World War. Currently, the DWP's Decision Makers' Guide (yes, you can read it online) runs to 14 volumes and covers everything. For example, labour market questions for Job Seekers Allowance are 228 pages long and the definition of “membership of the family” is 28 pages. So, if you have a member of a polygamous marriage trying to claim Income Support, where the other members of the marriage are all in prison, except for one “technical lifer” who has been transferred to an NHS hospital, you can process the claim (page 24217 for those wondering).

        UC rips all this up and writes its own, entirely separate Advice for decision making document. This struggles to cover someone with a mortgage, never mind a truly complex case. It's also constantly in flux, with modification memos being chucked out monthly. At the moment there are 41 memos that decision makers have to know that modify the official procedure, that have yet to be included in the “Advice for decision making” document, never mind be included in the software!

        tl;dr: Never underestimate the complexity of people's circumstances.

        1. Jim 40

          Re: Rewriting all the rules isn't helping

          "tl;dr Never underestimate the complexity of people's circumstances."

          This is the key.

          I'm retired from the advice sector now but the generalist level bible we had to use runs to 1740 pages and is updated annually.

          Specialist level benefits advice is very complicated. I specialised in debt and housing so required a good working knowledge of the benefits sytem.

          A mate of mine was a senior IT manager at the DWP in Longbenton prior to his retirement. He told me that no one knows all of the details of the various systems that have accumulated over the years some of which stretch back to the birth of IT in the early sixties and are still in use. The DWP was one of the very first users of large scale IT.

          We knew that UC in the hands of the Tories was only ever about cutting welfare spending as much as politically possible, with the ultimate end game being the complete dismantling of the welfare state. UC provides the cover to do so.

      2. Kane Silver badge

        "As I understand it, a significant proportion of claimants are still being processed manually because the IT can't do the job yet at all. Not sure quite how it could get worse..."

        They run out of pens. And paper. And the stationery budget is slashed.

  2. wolfetone Silver badge

    How can such a simple idea be screwed up and bastardised so badly?

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      How can such a simple idea be screwed up and bastardised so badly?

      Because the underlying systems - a hotchpotch of various benefit and taxation schemes and systems was - charitably - not fit for purpose.

      The whole sorry saga is reminiscent of the Blackadder trope of fixing wheels to a tomato. "Time consuming and utterly pointless".

      The right approach would be to (a) rationalise tax and benefits and (b) then get a system to automate it.

      The only way (and you read it here first) UC will be killed (no, not a stake through the heart) is when the government (any one) has a "review" and discovers that "due to other changes, efficiencies, better ways of working, etc etc" there is no longer a need for universal credit as "it can be delivered in other ways" before being quietly led down a Whitehall alley and given a fare-thee-well bullet through back of the head. (NOTE. This approach also guarantees gongs for all involved).

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      How can such a simple idea be screwed up and bastardised so badly?

      Because that's what governments do.

    3. Captain DaFt

      "How can such a simple idea be screwed up and bastardised so badly?"

      Big Goverment trying to build it from the top down instead of from the bottom up, while piling on more bureaucracy to manage it via infinite meetings.

      In other words, a normal case of government in action.

  3. Lee D Silver badge

    If you can't design a multi-million pound computer system to cope with the intricacies of the interaction between various benefits, how the hell do you expect anyone else to be able to understand it, and surely that's cause enough to fight for a simpler system that you CAN implement for a mere few billion pounds or less?

  4. BurnT'offering

    We have a shitty system

    What shall we do about it? I know - let's automate it! Then we'll have a shitty automated system

    1. cschneid

      Re: We have a shitty system

      I believe you have described the history of IT in its entirety.

      1. BurnT'offering

        Re: We have a shitty system

        Thanks! I did look at that and think it was probably the most useful and informative thing I have ever written during working hours.

    2. Shady

      Re: We have a shitty system

      That pretty much sums up every project devised by the sales "consultants" back when I was a permie

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What they should have done was move all the benefits under the DWP before they tried to consolidate but then who am I to state common sense? Maybe the more cleverer way was how they are doing it by moving council tax and housing benefit from councils and tax credits between departments without a full understanding of the systems involved first.

    I'm making assumptions with the above based on the fact that they haven't only moved whole area's but specific types of claimant.

  6. sikejsudjek

    Just have a citizens wage and have done with it. We print money as debt all the time so why not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is the tories you're talking about, no point putting it in the plebs hands, give it straight to our sponsors, who later on we get a kickback off.

  7. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    "... using the old IT from the original project while developing a digital front end."

    I'm interested to know what the original project used as a front end.

    Hydraulics ?

    1. Captain DaFt

      "Hydraulics ?"

      I believe it was steam.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was obvious this project was getting deeper into the doodoo when IDS jumped ship.

  9. Mudslinger

    Irritable Dowel Syndrome

    "The latest series of cuts ... risk leaving Universal Credit as little more than a vehicle for rationalising benefit administration and cutting costs to the exchequer,"

    Some cynics believe this was its sole purpose from the start.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agreed, universal basic income would allow us to bin the costly balls-up that is Universal Credit. The Torres see it as money for nothing, for the common man, so it will never be a goer under them, instead pissing money up the wall on UC.

    Irritable Duncan Syndrome, whilst telling people how lucky they should feel getting benefits, was shoving £57 breakfasts down his neck that we the tax-payer are paying for.

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