Real time information and universal credit on track, say ministers

Government ministers say projects at HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions are on time and on budget

HMRC’s real time information (RTI) project is “very much on track” to being a “successful government IT project”, and universal credit is on time and on budget, David Gauke, exchequer secretary to the treasury, and welfare reform minister Lord Freud have said.

The ministers’ comments follow a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Taxation Group (APPTG) on RTI, which raised concerns about weaknesses in its implementation that could create future problems for both RTI and universal credit.

Giving an update on the progress of HMRC’s RTI pilot for PAYE, which went live in April, Gauke, who oversees the tax authority, said that he was confident that the new system will reduce the burden on employers.

“It will reduce payroll costs for employers and help with fraud and error. It will be a hugely useful tool,” he said, adding that there was a “strong business case” for it.

He also revealed that while the estimated cost for the project was originally £108m, “like-for-like” figures show that this figure is now likely to be £115m.

But he added that the new system would pay for itself “each and every year”.

Stephen Banyard, acting director general for personal tax at the HMRC, told Government Computing that the RTI project was different to other major government IT projects that have failed in the past because there are “people at the top working together” to meet the challenges.

He added that time management was a “key ingredient” to a successful project, and that he was confident HMRC had got this right. The adoption of an agile approach was also named as one of the key reasons why the projects have not yet been subject to delays. The government has said that it is keen to use agile where possible.

RTI will support the operation of universal credit, the government’s welfare programme that brings together means-tested in and out of work benefits, tax credits and support for housing.

On the plans for universal credit, welfare reform minister Lord Freud confirmed that the new benefit system was “on track, on budget and on time”. He said that a pilot will go live as planned in the north-west as previously planned in April 2013, six months ahead of the full roll out in October of the same year.

The DWP’s annual report and accounts, which were published last week, revealed that fraud and error cost the DWP £3.2bn in 2011-12. The National Audit Office said that RTI and universal credit should help the department to significantly reduce these costs.

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