Universal Credit Project Assessment Reviews Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.The Government has complied with the instruction from the House of Commons. (Paragraph 2)

2.There is a statutory procedure for determining whether the PARs should be published. We consider it proper that the Tribunal makes that decision. (Paragraph 6)

The progress of the UC programme

3.By 2013, the UC programme was on the brink of complete failure. It is to the Department’s credit that it has brought it back from that brink. The programme is now run more professionally and efficiently with a collective sense of purpose. Rolling out the live service nationally and developing a digital service in-house are substantial achievements. UC continues, however, to face major challenges. (Paragraph 26)

Recurring themes in the reviews

4.The IPA’s call for the “industrialisation” of UC for complex cases and vulnerable customers is an unfortunate choice of phrase. In those stark terms, however, it epitomises the challenges facing the UC programme. To make its promised efficiency gains, it must become a far more automated system. Key areas such as identity verification, however, are currently manual processes for a large proportion of claimants. Delays to the rollout and automation of the digital service reduce projected efficiency savings. In seeking to maximise savings, however, the Department must monitor closely any potential adverse effects on claimants and factor those into its decision making. (Paragraph 33)

5.The IPA has been consistently critical of the Department’s failure to set clear criteria for proceeding to the next stage of the UC rollout. Setting clear performance standards in advance is the best way of ensuring decisions are made objectively. The publication of these would both benefit scrutiny and make it far easier for the Department to explain its decisions. (Paragraph 35)

6.Local authorities are key delivery partners for UC. The programme would have benefitted, and would continue to benefit, from better engagement with them and other landlords, including housing associations. (Paragraph 38)

7.UC is a valuable case study of the challenges in achieving transformational change in government which should be examined by ministers and civil servants planning major projects. (Paragraph 40)


8.The Government’s approach to oversight of major programmes is flexible, enabling each review to be tailored to the circumstances. This has its advantages, but it has made tracking the progress of UC more difficult. Key concerns moved in and out of scope, at the behest of the DWP programme team, and some important recommendations were not followed up in detail. We were surprised to learn the latest review, which considered the readiness of the digital service for accelerated rollout in late 2017, was explicitly excluded from considering whether previous IPA recommendations had been acted on, whether UC would achieve its business case, and whether it was delivering its policy intent. Furthermore, delays to the UC business case process mean that by the time of the next PAR, the UC programme will not have been subject to that level of IPA assurance for over two crucial years of its development. We expected UC to have been subject to more recent IPA oversight. (Paragraph 44)

9.In the eighth year of the programme, a full business case for UC has yet to be submitted. There is a need for robust statistical analysis to show whether the improved employment outcomes revealed in previous impact studies have been maintained for more complex claimant types. The effects of a slower rollout timetable and delays to automation on projected efficiency savings are also far from clear. Public, parliamentary and governmental scrutiny of this major reform would be better served by a more transparent approach by the Department. Given its confidence that the programme is on track, the DWP would also benefit from greater openness. (Paragraph 49)

10.The UC policy changes announced in the November 2017 Budget were major improvements which we hope will make a big difference to the lives of many claimants. UC is still far from perfect and we will continue to consider how policy can be best improved. The IPA reports provide insight into the interaction of policy objectives with the challenges of running a huge change programme. While the UC programme has come a long way since it was reset in 2013, some of its biggest challenges—such as delivering an automated online service on a national scale—are still to come. Examining those concerns will form an important part of our ongoing work. (Paragraph 50)

29 January 2018