HC Deb 22 February 1999 vol 326 cc164-5W
Mr. Cousins

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will indicate the objectives of the benefits payments smartcard project; on what date the final decision was taken to implement the project; what has been the expenditure on the project so far; and if he will list the remaining implementation milestones to completion. [71764]

Mr. Timms

The Benefits Agency is involved, with Post Office Counters Ltd., in a Programme to automate post offices and benefit payments. The objectives of this Programme are:

  • To deliver a secure method of paying benefits at post offices;
  • To develop a system that meets recognised accountancy practices;
  • For automation to provide greater commercial opportunities enabling Post Office Counters Ltd. to improve competitiveness and increase efficiency;
  • To provide an improved level of service to all customers.

The project is being taken forward under the Private Finance Initiative and the contract was awarded to ICL Pathway on 15 May 1996.

To date, the Department's expenditure amounts to £241 million. This expenditure provides a range of services and an Information Technology infrastructure that will also support our wider programme of modernisation.

The Programme is presently undergoing a limited trial in the North East and South West of England using the Benefit Payment Service to pay Child Benefit and the Order Book Control Service to record bar coded order books. The remaining milestones consist of the completion of post office automation nationally, the introduction of card payment for all other benefits and the delivery of the remaining services; the Electronic Point of Sale Service which records post office product sales; and the Automated Payment Service that provides automated bill payment facilities.

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