A negative early appraisal of Universal Credit – and why we shouldn’t overreact

The National Audit Office’s (NAO) recent report on the early progress of Universal Credit has concluded that it has been poorly managed and ‘has not achieved value for money’ thus far. Rentify believe it’s important to see this as a constructive step in the development of the project and not a signifier of something doomed to confusion and failure. There is a delicate balance to be struck in confronting the problems without losing public confidence in something that could ultimately save us millions of pounds and help landlords and tenants alike by encouraging many people into work.

The NAO levels a major criticism at the large spending on IT systems which may not even be able to cope with a national rollout of Universal Credit (70% of spending so far has been on this). Most worryingly, £34 million of the IT has already been written off: not a good start. But let’s remember that this is an entirely new system, the cornerstone of which will be new IT: focusing on getting it right at this early stage is the correct method. Still, the DWP must learn from their mistakes.

The general management of the project has also come under fire. The NAO has perceived a ‘lack of a detailed blueprint’ for precisely how Universal Credit will operate, leading to oversights and a lack of transparency. These are undeniably troubling conclusions but again there are solutions, as the NAO itself has laid out in the report. Indeed, the DWP say that they had just employed two of the country’s leading project managers prior to the publishing of the report.

The DWP’s response does prompt slight worry. A spokesman skirted around the issues which the NAO had raised, focusing instead on the report’s shortcomings and simply reiterating that Universal Credit will be delivered on time and within the budget. This may well be true but the DWP should be engaging with the constructive conclusions. Universal Credit is an ambitious project and, in the words of the NAO, ‘it is still entirely feasible that it goes on to achieve considerable benefits for society’. But it can only do this if the government has the confidence of the public, and we taxpayers must know that we are getting value for money.

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