Home Office criticised for 'poor IT' after writing off £347m IT project

By Sooraj Shah
22 Jul 2014 View Comments
Home Office in London

The Home Office has been criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO) for its "poor IT" which has led its own employees to raise concerns over the quality of its data. 

According to the NAO, poor IT means that the Home Office's directorates that have replaced the UK Border Agency (UK Visas and Immigration and the Immigration Enforcement) lack the good quality information needed to run the business.

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Amyas Morse, head of NAO, said that the Home Office has started making significant changes since the agency was broken up, but that more progress was expected of the department.

"We would have expected greater progress by now though in tackling the problems we identified in 2012 in areas such as specific backlogs and IT," he said.

The NAO cites the flagship Immigration Casework (ICW) programme that was supposed to replace the legacy Casework Information Database and 20 other systems as a particular failure, having closed in August 2013 after not being able to deliver all of the planned functions. The project had cost the Home Office £347m.

The NAO report claimed that caseworkers still therefore rely on a legacy system, and support contracts for vital legacy systems are due to expire in 2016.

Home Office staff told the NAO that they had concerns around data quality for cases. Some data is still transferred manually from paper to IT systems, for example, increasing the risk for errors. The NAO struggled to access data in a meaningful format and found inconsistencies between data-sets at the department.

"Poor data quality is a factor of poor data capture. Poor controls in the Casework Information Database increases the risk that staff fail to input the minimum standards information required," it said.

A new Immigration Platform Technologies programme is set to replace ICW and rolls out fully in 2017. However, NAO said that the programme "still has far to go to have a significant impact and will cost £209m over four years".

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge MP, said that given the department's poor track record she has "little confidence that the further £209m it is spending on another IT system will be money well spent".

NAO recommends that the department assesses whether its incremental, agile approach to IT will provide the system transformation needed to achieve high-performance operations. And in the meantime, NAO suggests that the Home Office must act to improve the quality of case data so it is robust and reliable.

The report also suggested that low morale and a fear of drawing attention to bad news were commonplace in the agency and issues had frequently surfaced only at crisis points.

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