Universal credit: Concerns raised over IT system

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MPs debated the government's universal credit plans during an Estimates Day debate on 6 March 2013.

Universal credit will replace a number of existing welfare benefits including housing benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit and income support.

The changes are part of the government's overhaul of the welfare system.

Several MPs raised concerns about relying on one computer system to administer the new project.

Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, warned that a computer failure could bring the whole system down.

"The most important aspect of the delivery of universal credit will be the IT," she said.

"If it goes wrong, the whole system will grind to a halt. However, for a digital system to work it requires the user, in this case the claimant, to have access to and to be able to use the internet."

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie claimed the project had already been delayed by IT problems and said: "I have seen very little reassurance this will not happen again."

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said this was a "complete red herring" - but Labour's work and pensions spokesman Stephen Timms claimed otherwise.

"Ministers for a long time after the announcement of universal credit told us all new applications for out-of-work benefits would be treated as universal credit applications from October this year.

"It's now absolutely clear that date will not be achieved, it might be a year later, it could be some time after that. It's certainly been delayed," Mr Timms said.

Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset, said the aims of universal credit were laudable, but warned that a failure in the computer system could be "catastrophic".

"There is no room for error or delay here because we're talking about the most vulnerable in our society, and if the money does not come on the day they expect it there will be very serious problems."

Wrapping up the debate Mr Hoban told MPs universal credit was about a "change in culture" rather than simply a benefit replacement exercise.

"It is actually about helping people back into work, making sure they know it's better to work than not to work, better to work longer to earn more than to work fewer hours to earn less," he said.

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