DWP Pensions Dashboards programme adds £13m to core tech deal as report identifies ‘digital skills shortages’

Since its inception, delivery of website for citizens to access info on all their pensions has been postponed by a total of seven years, with costs rising by a quarter

A dearth of digital skills has been the central cause of lengthy delays to the DWP’s near-£300m Pensions Dashboards Programme, according to a new report from the National Audit Office.

The publication of the report – which also found that overall programme costs have risen by at least a quarter – came on the same day it was revealed that an additional £13.5m will be spent via the project’s core supplier contract. The deal with Capgemini covers the provision of “major components of the digital architecture, including the pension finder service, the consent and authorisation service, and the governance register”.

That commercial engagement came into effect in September 2021, and was slated to run for five years at a cost to government of £43.5m. More than two years away from its scheduled conclusion, the Department for Work and Pensions has acted early to enact a two-year extension – taking the end date of the deal to 2 September 2028, and the total value to £57m.

The NAO assessment, meanwhile, found that, between 2020 and 2023, government’s expected spending on delivering the Pensions Dashboards Programme (PDP) rose from £235m to £289m – an increase of 23%. The estimated net benefit of the scheme has fallen by 21% to £213m.

Having first been announced in 2016, the dashboards were originally due to be operational by 2019, a date that was initially pushed back to late 2023. As that deadline neared – and with the recognition that on-time delivery was “no longer viable” – a full reset of the project was instigated.

Under the revised timeline, there will be an incremental process of connecting all pensions providers to the dashboard infrastructure, with all firms required to connect by an ultimate deadline of November 2026. There is no formal date currently set for when the public can actually begin using the online tools.

DWP arm’s-length body the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) was created in its present form in 2019 and swiftly thereafter took over responsibility for running the PDP. The NAO claimed that a lack of digital expertise in the newly established organisation has been a major contributor to recent delays in delivering the programme – which will now finish work at least seven years behind the original schedule.

“DWP did not have assurance at the outset that MaPS had the capacity and capability to deliver a major digital programme such as the PDP, but told us it had expected that MaPS would be able to build the capability it needed,” the report said.

Issues have also been caused by a governance structure in which “DWP’s oversight of the PDP was led by its policy and corporate sponsorship teams, with limited input from digital and programme management experts”, according to the NAO.

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Auditor general Gareth Davies added: “Once completed, the PDP could benefit millions of people by providing a secure, comprehensive and online point of access for information about their pensions. However, delivery delays due to shortfalls in digital capacity and capability have pushed back the final deadline for pension providers and schemes to connect to the PDP by a year, with no date currently set for citizens to benefit. Though progress has been made during the reset, DWP and MaPS must continue to work closely to ensure the final stages of the PDP are delivered smoothly and the public can begin to have access to this important service.”

Since the commencement of the 2023 reset, “MaPS has completed a technical review of the design of the digital architecture to confirm that it meets the programme’s requirements, revised the PDP’s delivery plan, and  improved how it works with its supplier, Capgemini”, auditors found.

“In addition, MaPS has designed a new governance structure for the PDP,” the report added. “The changes are intended to improve decision-making, enable more effective working with key stakeholders, and support better DWP oversight of progress.”

The audit – which took place during “the final stage of the reset process” – also noted that, after Iain Patterson was recruited last month from the Cabinet Office’s Central Digital and Data Office, the Pensions Dashboard Programme now has “a new senior responsible owner with the necessary digital technology experience to lead the rest of the programme”.

‘Significant progress’
Responding to the NAO report, MaPS chief executive Oliver Morley said: “This report reflects the hard work of a dedicated team to inject real momentum into the dashboards programme, with support from the Money and Pensions Service, Department for Work and Pensions and wider stakeholder community. We’re making sustained progress, delivering the information industry needs to be able to connect and so enable us to transform financial planning for generations to come.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson added: “As the NAO recognises, the Pensions Dashboards Programme has made significant progress towards delivering a service which will transform how savers plan for their retirement. Action taken by the DWP to reset the Programme to get it on track for successful delivery means connection testing will begin from August 2024 before a wider onboarding of pension schemes and providers from April 2025.”

Once the dashboards are live, they will provide people with the ability “to see their pensions information, including their State Pension, for free in one place online at a time of their choosing”, according to government’s programme guidance. The NAO estimates that, once they are up and running, 16.3 million people will use regularly the dashboards.

Over a 10-year period beginning in April 2022, the cumulative cost to the pensions industry of supporting the creation of the dashboard will be £688m.

Sam Trendall

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