HMRC technique for raising money

Filed under: Process — lenand @ 12:56 pm

The Government Gateway gives access to business and personal accounts with HMRC.  There does not seem to be a restriction on how many accounts you can access – but that’s another story.  Even if you are logged on, a business user has to enroll for each service, such as VAT and PAYE.  However, you are not warned that each of these services require separate notification. This is particularly galling with PAYE; they insist on sending the tax reference number by snail mail – they don’t seem to trust secure email.  Then when you try to enroll, they finally let you know that you have to apply for a new Activation Code – and this adds another seven days for snail mail.  Why such a convoluted process – I’d love someone to steal my codes and pay my tax bills.

The consequence is a late payment fine for 14 days delay for what should be done in 30 minutes.  An example of bureaucracy increasing Government income.



Universal Incredibility

Filed under: Local Government,Policy,Technology — lenand @ 11:51 am
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Local Government have been presented with more information about DWP’s Universal Credit (UC) programme.   The complexity is such that it will replace more than 30 working age benefits, across 4 agencies, with 10,000 pages of guidance.  DWP have published their implementation plan.         

They have been coy about when design and build will finish, let’s say Dec 2012 and about 6 months testing.  All using agile programming methods!

Not declared in the document is another staggering statistic; there 19 million claims by 8 million households.  Households will become the unit to which DWP will pay benefits.  Total household income will be reconciled every month as people move in and out of work.  The new on-line self-service system will speed up registration for  benefits from weeks to days, and avoid the often devastating, annual reconciliation.  The Devil thrives in the detail.  Households may contain parents, step-parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, children at school, young people at work, unemployed NEETs, students and cohabitees.    To complicate the issue for some beneficiaries, UC will not replace:

  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Contributory Benefits
  • Carers’ Allowance
  • Child Benefit
  • Pension Credit

Quarkside’s question to DWP about how they are going to define households remains unanswered.

Attempting to design a system without a definition of the primary unit of measure points to incompetence or a guarantee of promotion.  Apparently, top flight consultants are involved.  Perhaps they only have experience of well behaved nuclear families with bags of broadband and integrated internships.  Local authorities have to deal with the fall-out when the edifice crumbles.  Any ICT developer could devise a simple agile program for a consultant’s family – not for a family of travellers where ‘household’ has no meaning and may change on a weekly basis.  Change is second-most important reason for computer system failure, the first-most is getting the wrong specification.  UC hits both sweet spots.

Many new claimants for current benefits cancel broadband contracts as a luxury.   Many older claimants are also digitally excluded.  Currently LAs handle benefits claimants face to face and they employ many staff to do so.  Quarkside does not know the numbers, neither did DWP.  So they enquired to find out the number, perhaps indiscreetly, by asking Heads of Revenues and Benefits what their redundancy costs might be when UC is implemented.  LA Chief Executives were not amused.  Face to face service will be necessary and it is not clear who will provide it from which premises.

In answer to some of these challenges a DWP spokesman was most enlightening.

  • Ian Duncan Smith is only interested in outcomes
  • There’s a commercial market for recycled computers, everybody should be able to afford one
  • 70-80% of transactions will be on-line by beneficiaries
  • Most beneficiaries will be in full-time work
  • LAs may be asked to work as agents for DWP
  • HMRC and DWP are working closely together, but there is a bit of a conflict with DCLG housing policy and benefits caps
  • Ease of use is important and wireframe design will eventually help beneficiaries (aka customers)
  • LA support is essential for success and more consultation will be carried out
  • Writing the letter to Heads of Revs & Bens was a mistake
  • £180,000 for developing the system must also  be a mistake, it’s more likely to be             £18million.

Finally, we learn that £8.5b is lost in error, fraud and administration in the current means tested sytems.  How much this is a result of identity error, identity fraud and identity administration?  Quarkside raised the issue in February, “Identity Icebergs to sink Universal Credits“.  There’s not been a lot of action to allay fears by LAs about providing an Identity Hub which collects personal data and matches it with third party credentials.


Universal Credit: Doomed to failure

Filed under: Local Government,Politics,Process,Technology,Time — lenand @ 8:32 pm
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Whilst one must applaud the simplification of the UK’s complex system of benefits, there’s a growing body of informed opinion that the ICT system proposals are doomed to failure.  Just read this from Page 35 of the White Paper on Universal Credit.

Recipients who have earnings from employment will have those earnings automatically taken into account. We intend to use HM Revenue & Customs proposed real-time information system to identify earnings and to calculate the net Universal Credit payment due by applying the appropriate taper to the gross payment. This means that those recipients who receive earnings through Pay As You Earn will not need to inform us for payment purposes if the amount of their earnings change. Recipients will, though, still need to tell us about other changes to their circumstances which affect their entitlement to benefit, or the conditions they must meet.

To reassure the readers, there’s a diagram, too.  It looks so easy to design real-time systems, doesn’t it.  Universal Credit Real Time SystemThere are opportunities for confusion.  As reported earlier, the Cabinet Office were expecting elements to be operational by April 2012, including hundreds of local authority identity hubs.  The White Paper refers to pilots commencing in 2013 and complete roll-out by 2017.

The impact on local authorities (LAs) has been reviewed by CIPFA.  They say “There is very little recognition within the administrative proposals of the Government’s overall localism agenda and, although there has yet to be any final decision on the future role of LAs, there are few specific proposals for any involvement for LAs in the future arrangements for the assessment and delivery of the UC.”   Payment of Housing Benefit currently provides employment for thousands of LA staff.  Will these staff be transferred to DWP or be part of an outsourcing deal?

All in all, the size and complexity of the project are typical of some of the worst failures in large government computer projects.  If history is a guide, then expect the prophets of doom to be vindicated.

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