back to article Universal Credit CRUNCHED: Dole handouts IT system to be rebuilt

The man brought in to steer the government's crisis-hit one-dole-to-rule-them-all IT system has admitted that the Department for Work and Pension's Universal Credit project has been poorly managed and needs to be completely overhauled. Howard Shiplee was hired by Work and Pensions Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith in May …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Holy shit. A massive new government IT project is over-budget and late due to their mismanagement and likely also some incompetence and price-gouging from their selected contractors. Colour me utterly stunned. Who could have ever predicted this?

    1. Piro Silver badge

      Re: Wow.

      I know. Christ.

      For a start, they need to basically forget about their old suppliers, and totally ignore all large firms that deal with UK government IT projects (Serco, Capita, all that shit).

  2. sugerbear

    [quote] This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people's behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work[/quote]

    I take it that he is referring to the various contractors/outsourcers and management involved in any IT contract with the government.

  3. J P

    Dammit. I had _second_ week in September in the office sweepstake on the date they admitted it wasn't going to work.

  4. Dazzz

    What? You mean IDS lied about his big project?

    I find that hard to belie... oh...

  5. Mike Brown

    Blame the dead guy.....nice

    Whats the big deal with this? Its just a big database.

    I suspect the head dudes idea that it isnt just about IT says a lot tho. As it is just IT; its just a big excel spreadsheet with a pretty GUI.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Blame the dead guy.....nice

      Unless it is an old component being swapped straight out then it is never 'just IT' (even then a tech is involved). Every single thing a computer does and that's done with it ultimately involves at least two sets of people: Those who build it and those who use it. The behaviors, biases, direction and abilities of both groups dictate if what is being built will work correctly or even determine if building it is possible.

      In physical engineering disciplines a lot of study goes into the humanities, psychology (Human behavior and incentives) and history. I think IT could benefit greatly if those things were taught along with the technical side of things.

      Regardless of the end product, everything starts and comes back to people (for better or worse). The fastest way to derail a project or end up with a steamy pile of shit is to not make Humans your Number One priority.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Blame the dead guy.....nice

      They are not blaming the dead guy. They are blaming the fact that he is no longer around to finish what he started.

  6. Christoph

    changing people's behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work.

    And exactly how will this change the behaviour of people who are desperately trying to find work when THERE AREN'T ANY JOBS.

    It doesn't matter how much pressure you put on them, how much you fiddle the rules so you can cut their benefits to fund tax cuts for the rich, how much you make their life a living hell while sneering at them as 'scroungers'. The only way to get more people into jobs is to have more jobs available for them.

    The only 'success' of such a scheme is that it has reduced the number of people out of work - by the number driven to suicide.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      unfortunately, for every time this claim is made, someone can always cite an opposing example where someone has milked the system for years.

      Because it's been quite warm recently, I'm working with my patio door open. A few days ago the daughter of our next door neighbours had some friends around. They spent most of the afternoon in the garden discussing the best way to "fix the social" (their words) by throwing job interviews. One of them has been claiming ESA and detailed how they tricked the doctor.

      That's 4 people who should be in a job, straightaway.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Christoph Alas, though

        I'm not absolutely convinced I want to employ them.

      2. Steve Murphy

        Re: @Christoph

        "unfortunately, for every time this claim is made, someone can always cite an opposing example where someone has milked the system for years."

        Actually, there are 2.51 million unemployed and you anecdote counts only 4 of them (even that is not the true, number since ESA numbers are not counted in the 2.51 million).

        Do you really think policy ought to be made on what you heard over the fence - or read in a tabloid? Do you actually believe people become lazier during times of economic downturn?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Steve Murphy

          My point was that - unfortunately - there are *still* people around whose declared goal in life is to live it at somebody elses expense. I appreciate a conversation between 4 under 20 year-olds falls into the category of "anecdote", but it happened.

          I am heartily sick of the "there's no jobs" wail from people who expect to be spoon fed everything. I've been trying to get some building work done, and have lost count of the firms I've called who have quoted 3-month lead times citing "lack of manpower" as a reason.

      3. Christoph

        Re: @Christoph

        They spent most of the afternoon in the garden discussing the best way to "fix the social"

        Yes, young people tend to be irresponsible. Hardly news. If you had been next to the house of someone very rich you could have heard the children and their friends discussing which restaurant they were next going to visit as members of the Bullingdon Club with the deliberate intention of getting stinking drunk and smashing the place up for 'a bit of fun' .

        Now try considering the now vast numbers of people who are not trying to fiddle anything, they are trying to feed themselves and their children. But simply by being thrown out of work through no fault of their own they are somehow instantly transformed into useless workshy scroungers who can be kicked and sneered at without limit, and made to wade through ever increasing amounts of bureaucracy simply to feed their families.

        Remember when huge numbers of MPs were found to be fiddling their expenses? When some very simply controls were put in place to reduce the fiddling they squealed like stuck pigs at this terrible imposition. And then went back and voted for more and more and more oppressive controls on benefits to reduce the fiddling. Which is now known to be far, far less prevalent than that expense fiddling was.

    2. Jess--

      I was raised in the classic benefit trap, Only child in a one parent family existing on benefits from a very early age

      once I left school (with crap results) the situation I was in was young enough to not have transport, no income to either get a license or vehicle (even a moped) and then no way of insuring any form of vehicle.

      that's not too bad if you happen to live in a town or somewhere with sensible transport links (sorry but the earliest bus each day being at 10:45 am is not sensible, neither is the last bus being at 3:30 pm)

      I joined up with someone else in the same situation and started a small business (window cleaning of all things) while we were both still claiming, the money from the business was ploughed back into the business and to get the pair of us transport (which in turn meant we could expand the business).

      While we were doing this I was honest with the dole office (I cant remember what name they were using then) and the adviser I spoke with said simply "I didn't hear any of this, but I will mark you as very actively seeking work", as soon as the business was able to support itself and one of us I signed off, once the business grew further the other person also signed off.

      now (almost 20 years later) I run 2 successful businesses (in 2 completely different sectors so if something affects one the other is likely to continue without problems) and I have worked for a company not owned by me for a grand total of 4 weeks.

      Just saying "there aren't any jobs" and carrying on claiming is entirely the wrong attitude, if nobody is offering you a job then make yourself a job, people will always be willing to pay for others to do what they see as menial tasks like cleaning windows and similar (you would often be surprised how much they will pay).

      there is almost always a way of getting off benefits if you want to.

      1. Irongut

        Re: Jess--

        Acording to DWP rules now and DSS rules 20 years ago that dole office person should have reported you as working while claiming. You should have had your benefits stopped and been forced to repay the benefits you had claimed since you started the business. Leaving you with no money to live on or run your business. By not doing so they broke the law and became an acomplice to your benefit fraud.

        In my experience with dole offices most of their staff would have followed the letter of the law and reported you even though you were trying to get yourself off benefits.

        Saying "just defraud the system because I got away with it" is not the right attitude either.

        1. Intractable Potsherd

          Re: Jess-- @ Irongut

          When the system only leaves you the option of defrauding it in order to leave it, then fraud is logical.

          Let's just pay everyone a nominal, non-means-tested living amount and tax accordingly. Get rid of a whole bunch of bureaucrats who don't give flying fuck about the people they are dealing with in one stroke.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Your argument is self defeating. You have pointed out your only way off benefits was to defraud the system by working and claiming at the same time until you felt you had enough coming in. Why not just sign off when you set up your business or did you need to milk my taxes to boost your profits? I guess we bought your car from our taxes?

        If there was infrastructure investment, there might be decent public transport creating jobs in that sector, allowing you to travel elsewhere for work created elsewhere. That seems a better answer to me.

        1. Jess--

          Re: Re:

          I beleive that they took that approach with me because it was cheaper / less bureaucracy than going through the official channels to gain a small business grant to set up the business etc etc.

          I went in there with the expectation of having to apply for some form of grant to get the business off the ground.

          1. keithpeter Silver badge

            Re: Re:

            "I beleive that they took that approach with me because it was cheaper / less bureaucracy than going through the official channels to gain a small business grant to set up the business etc etc."

            Why don't we just 'officialise' what Jess-- did? Why don't we allow, perhaps even encourage people to receive basic support while starting their own enterprise?

            1. jonathanb Silver badge

              Re: Re:

              That is what Universal Credit aims to do. You can still claim some benefits while working, but it gets tapered off as you earn more. You file your accounts online with HMRC every month, and they use that to calculate your benefits.

              Unfortunately, they can't also use that to calculate your tax bill, because profits for benefits purposes are calculated using different rules to profits calculated for tax purposes.

        2. Jess--

          Re: Re:

          in reference to milking your taxes, I did to the tune of £289.20 over 8 weeks (£36.15 per week) and that money was used to buy wondrous luxuries like food, electric, water or pay rent & council tax.

          in those 8 weeks the business paid for the following...

          1. put my friend through his driving test (he passed first time luckily)

          2. something that resembled a car, it was an old X reg austin metro that you could see the road through the floor in (I believe that we paid around £60 for it which was the amount that could be reclaimed from the tax disc in it's windscreen)

          3. Insurance for my friend to drive the car (third party only)

          4. a roof rack

          5. 2 sets of ladders (so we didnt have to keep borrowing the neighbours)

          6. buckets etc

          getting that lot together took the 8 weeks, at which point the business had certain work to ensure £80 per week coming in (I signed off and took £40 per week of that leaving the other £40 to cover the business costs).

          Still not sure whether it would be legally classed as fraud because until I had signed off I was not receiving any money for the work because any money generated was used on what was needed for the business.

          comments invited

      3. Ben79

        "Just saying "there aren't any jobs" and carrying on claiming is entirely the wrong attitude"

        It's the truth though. Not everyone is intelligent or confident enough to do what you did. Years ago there were jobs out there for such people. Lots of people capable of decent manual jobs are left with nothing but society's scorn and benefits because all those jobs are now done abroad.

        I never heard of anyone who wanted to be dependent on benefits in the long term. That's a tabloid myth.

    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      "changing people's behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work."

      There already *is* an incentive to work - being alive costs money. Now, when are they going to actually force EMPLOYERS to actually pay people to work?

    4. jonathanb Silver badge

      There were more jobs created between 1997 and 2007 than there were unemployed people in 1997 who could have taken those jobs. Back then, if you didn't have a job, there was something wrong with you. There were, nevertheless, people who didn't have a job back then, because there was something wrong with them.

      New jobs are being created very slowly, but there is no point in doing that if you have to bring people in from other countries to do the jobs, because the natives are either too lazy, or won't take them because they end up with less money or much the same money as they do for staying in bed.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    " changing people's behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work"

    I've only ever been unemployed for 2 short periods in my working life.

    Stop trying to tar every claimant as a sponge! I pay my taxes and PAY FOR social benefits, through every fking type of tax possible AND via NI.

    Yes there are pleny of "the dole is my shepard I will not want" types out there. Direct your bile TO THEM and stop makiong your self look like a biased twat!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Those pesky big suppliers

    I'm sure it will all be OK when they kick the usual big suppliers off the contract and go to all the SMEs gagging to take on these projects.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Trough divers were seen happily slurping away, just waiting for the next feed truck.

  10. Chris G

    Rubber Stamp

    I really begin to wonder if the (Un)Civil Service wouldn't be better off (and cheaper for the Nation) if they all went back to department memos, books of guidelines and rubber stamps.

    They could also use snailmail to inform everyone of the results of their claims too.

    Maybe the old way would be cheaper and more efficient than constantly coming up with monlithic IT systems that no matter how well designed initially,only the designers can use.

    The so called users seem to have no grasp of security if they can't lock it in a fire safe each night ( no password required) and a fire safe is much harder to leave behind on a bus or train than a CD in a carrier bag.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does this mean £5/week stays?

    I have hated the £5/week limit on earnings on the dole since Major's day, and as an indication, you could get 10 liters of petrol for it back then. I supported Universal Credit primarily because it killed that limit, which needed to die, and replaced it with a percentage.

    I shall be mightily irked if the £5/week limit emerges from its shallow grave.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    not "just about IT".

    <profanity filter off>

    No shit.

    Let me guess, no thought about training the 10s of 1000s of staff who are going to be involved.

    I'll Guess Ms Reynolds quit when she realized IDS was going to continue with the bullshit and not admit the project needed be re-scheduled and re-resourced (but let's not forget the Mythical Man Month on the effects of throwing staff at overdue projects).

    I presume the usual fuckwits suspects are being employed on this because, heavens you can't have anyone who might actually know how the existing system works, could you?

    Some things are unforseeable. They are "Acts of God." But this one had all the usual hallmarks. Epic ambition, no buy in from senior management. etc. Presumably it will be interfacing to the NIRS II system, a previous generation fuckup.

    I think I'll leave it there as my comments might become rudely personal.

    </profanity filter off>

    1. oomonkey

      Re: not "just about IT".

      Here's the trough breakdown from

      DWP spent just 0.1% of this £2.4bn directly with SMEs - £2.5m - which went to four small firms of consultants: Emergn, Bramble, Evolve Business Consultancy, and Compass Management Consulting.

      Most of the £2.4bn was spent with just one company, HP, which earned £1.3bn, or 53% of the expenditure. BT claimed £400m (17%); Accenture got £277m (12%); while £117m (5%) went to IBM; £89m to Capita (3.8%); £81m to SCC (3.4%); and £73m to Atos (3%). (See also the table below, which shows the breakdown by supplier for Universal Credit).

  13. defiler

    Huge government IT project

    Destined to fail from the outset. Not surprised in the slightest. Every time I see one of these projects being announced, I just think "that's at least 2x £<budget> that'll be poured into a hole. At least it'll keep some people in jobs for a while."

    Do any of these ever work out?

    1. Refugee from Windows

      Re: Huge government IT project

      They always seem to start with good intentions, but the bloat starts early, noone admits to any shortcomings during the project and changes take too long to implement. Yes, HMG is no good at IT projects but we've known that for a while. Possibly it's not a case of what could go wrong but rather when - data loss, inaccuracies and just plain mistakes which are more due to the entities parked on chairs who are employed there.

  14. miket82

    Not working, b*****t.

    Of course it's working. Think of all the politicians, their cronies, civil servants, and contractors who would all be out of a job if it stopped not working. Or we could always blame the 'other lot' for creating a false positive.

  15. Frankee Llonnygog

    Not all Civil Servants are at fault

    This is another instance of an incoming government wanting total revolution, in no time at all and for a tiny budget. The Civil Servant to blame is the one who said, "Yes, Minister"

  16. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Remember when they were

    The Department of Stealth and Total Obscurity ?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Do as I did and join the Territorial Army - it was one of the about 12 jobs that only the first £10 (IIRC) counted towards your benefits and the rest is yours. This may have changed.

  18. oomonkey

    Related to Less than 1% went to SMEs???

    Computer Weekly reported a few weeks back that;

    "Less than 1% of the IT spending for the government’s flagship Universal Credit programme has gone to SMEs, according to a Computer Weekly investigation."

    Hmmm so you know who all the money went to then. The usual suspects and their army of "specialist" new grads and offshored cheap as chips devs I suppose. Maybe they should engage some experts to do some of the hard stuff.

    Why aren't Big IT projects run like civil engineering projects where they get specialists in for each area (specialist steel, specialist glass, architects, Lifts, A/C, Quantity Surveyors etc. etc.) . Why do the big SIs continually try to do it all in-house. Shouldn't they just be big programme management outfits hiring in specialist engineering teams?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Related to Less than 1% went to SMEs???

      "Why aren't Big IT projects run like civil engineering projects where they get specialists in for each area (specialist steel, specialist glass, architects, Lifts, A/C, Quantity Surveyors etc. etc.) . "

      I can explain part of it.

      a) Tender process takes (literally) years to progress and choose a "winner." Very few companies have the pockets deep enough to keep some competent people waiting around for IDS to talk to them and ask stupid questions.

      b) The project is priced by the total spend EG £10Bn for the Snoopers Charter, not £500m/ yr.

      So either the dept or the Treasury says "We must have company that can handle that level of risk," because they might go bankrupt and f**k us up.

      Instead you'll get one of "The Usual Suspects (TM)" who will definitely f**k it up instead.

  19. Stevie


    "New boss says only good chunks will be rescued from £500m project"

    So, the parts written in Cobol are safe.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      New one of these please!

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Bah!

      "So, the parts written in Cobol are safe."


  20. amanfromarse

    Epic ambition, I like that.

    As soon as I read about this project's epic ambition I knew that it was doomed.

    Sadly, I watched a couple of hours of IDS et al., before the select committee a few weeks ago and I've never seen anybody twist the truth with such arrogance and contempt as IDS did.

    So how's your 'agile' epiphany going now IDS? <chortle/>

    Unfortunately, and it makes me more than a little angry, they are going to 'reboot' the project and cost us, the taxpayers, billions, instead of the current millions, before they can it.

    The bloke from the Olympics seems pretty switched on but he's about to find out that building a successful, epic software system is a lot more difficult than building some impressive buildings (even if you did go massively over budget, despite the government's pathetic attempts to deny the figures).

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "(even if you did go massively over budget, despite the government's pathetic attempts to deny the figures)."

      Thinking the Treasury would let you off paying VAT for the build was, shall we say, wishful thinking?

  21. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A sucess!

    So you get to hand out millions to friendly suppliers (don't forgot the donations next election guys) and at the same time you stop poor people getting their money - looks like a win from No10

  22. OzBob

    (For comprehensive attendees only)

    Think about the last time you were lumped together with a fairly representative sample of society ie. school. And thinking back, on average how many of your classmates were useless / thick / weird? 1 in 30 was my experience, so 3% of the sample. That accounts for half the unemployed so far, the rest are probably short-term unemployed between jobs.

    Anyone a fan of "big data"? I would like from the govt a complete anonymised list of unemployed, along with their educational level, county of residence, and duration of unemployment. It would be interesting to massage and see where the fail point are.

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