MPs have highlighted "new concerns" over the glacially slow Universal Credit programme, concluding in a report that the programme "still has a long way to go."
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said today: “The lack of transparency surrounding a programme with such wide-reaching implications for so many people is completely unacceptable.”
Universal Credit is already six months late compared with the timescale given last year and is now estimated to be complete by 2021. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts a further six-month delay beyond this latest planned end-date.
Hillier noted that it is "worrying" that the latest approved business case for the programme has not been updated to include further benefit changes introduced in the the Spending Review and Autumn Statement.
The report said: "We remain disappointed by the persistent lack of clarity and evasive responses by the Department to our inquiries, particularly about the extent and impact of delays."
The report urged the department to publish "a clear explanation of how the Universal Credit business case has changed since it last reported on the programme, including the effects of the Autumn Statement and transitional protection.
It also urged the government to minimise any delays, as it estimated in 2014 that every six-month delay reduces the programme’s benefits by £2.3bn.
However, the body said it was "reassuring" that the Treasury had put contingency plans in place if there are delays with systems which Universal Credit depends upon, such as GOV.UK's Verify scheme.
It also said a lack of clear and specific milestones around the programme creates uncertainty for claimants, advisers, and local authorities, and “makes it difficult for Parliament and taxpayers to hold the department to account.” ®