The computer system used for new personal independence payment (PIP) claims has crashed twice in a week, just days after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted it was “working as it should”.
On both occasions, last Wednesday (11 May) and Monday this week (16 May), the system – designed and maintained by IT giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) – was down for more than 24 hours.
The system has now crashed twice just as DWP has been sending out 16,000 letters telling existing claimants of disability living allowance (DLA) that they need to apply for PIP.
The 11 May crash was apparently due to the CAMlite software used across DWP as part of the move towards universal credit – although DWP’s press office has so far failed to confirm any details about CAMlite – while this week’s malfunction seems to have been caused by problems with the PIP CS software designed specifically to deal with PIP claims.
DWP has been unable so far to say whether HPE is responsible for designing both CAMlite and PIP CS.
Despite the system crashing twice in less than a week, at a crucial moment in the reassessment process, Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, has invited ridicule by instructing his spokesman to continue to describe the problems as “technical glitches”.
Two weeks ago, a whistleblower working for Serco, the company that runs the telephone helpline that deals with all new PIP claims, described the PIP CS software as “appallingly bad”, and so poor that at least once a month Serco staff were unable to process claims coming through on the helpline and had to tell callers to ring again, because of problems with the system.
When those claims were put to HPE, it denied there were any problems, as did DWP, even after Serco confirmed the problems.
Now the whistleblower has got back in touch – twice – with Disability News Service (DNS) to say that the system has crashed two further times, on both occasions for an entire day.
She said the system first went down just after 8am last Wednesday (11 May), and was down all day. As a result, 6,300 callers had to be told to “ring back in an hour”.
In response, Tomlinson’s spokesman originally claimed that this problem affected “less than a third of users over the course of the morning and they were able to regain access to the system by logging back in”, while the problem was “resolved by lunchtime of the same day”.
He added: “As with any IT system of this size, it is inevitable that from time to time there will be technical glitches.
“We work hard to fix any issues as soon as they arise and all claims are processed with the minimum delay possible – in fact PIP claims are now being cleared three times faster than they were in January 2014.”
But when challenged on this, he admitted that DNS was correct and said there had been “some confusion”, and the system had not been restored until “the start of work on the next day”.
Just hours after that statement arrived, the whistleblower got back in touch to say that the system had crashed again on Monday this week, and did not start to work again until 2pm the following day (Tuesday).
At one stage on Tuesday, staff were forced to process new claims by typing details into PDF forms on screen and then e-mailing them, avoiding HPE’s computer system completely.
By the time the system was working again, there were 300 callers in the telephone helpline queue and waiting times of 20 minutes, which later rose to more than 30 minutes.
After DNS passed on details of the latest system crash, a DWP spokeswoman said, despite being aware that the whistleblower had previously described major problems happening at least once a month: “I don’t think the two examples below which relate to two separate issues and two separate systems can be construed as the whole system repeatedly crashing.”
HPE again refused to comment on the details of the latest failure of its system, but said that “with any IT system of such a size, it is inevitable that there will be glitches from time to time”.
Its spokesman then repeated part of a statement he issued two weeks ago, saying: “We always work closely with our clients to ensure that the services we provide support their policy requirements and respond quickly to any incidents raised.”
Yesterday (Wednesday), callers were still reporting having to wait more than 30 minutes to get through on the helpline, while staff were being offered overtime to input claims that originally had to be typed into pdf files, and to call new PIP claimants back on Saturdays.
PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age DLA, has been mired in controversy, delays and backlogs ever since its launch in April 2013.
And in February, new DWP figures revealed that only two-thirds (68 per cent) of PIP claimants were satisfied with the service they received from DWP, compared with an average of 82 per cent across all 10 benefits surveyed.