IT costs blow out on failed 'marriage vouchers' trial

The Australian government's failed AU$200 marriage vouchers trial cost close to twice as much to administer per voucher due to the IT costs associated with the trial.

A failed Australian government trial of vouchers for couples seeking marriage counselling cost close to double the amount to implement due to IT costs associated with the project.

The brainchild of former Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, couples could register and receive AU$200 vouchers to use with registered couples counselling services. The trial was axed shortly after Andrews moved to defence and Scott Morrison became the new minister for social services.

The government had allocated AU$20 million to the "Stronger Relationships" trial for up to 100,000 couples, but a total of just 12,917 couples registered, with only 4,233 claims received for the AU$200 as of February 9 this year when the scheme was axed.

Despite the total funding provided to couples for counselling only reaching AU$846,600, the cost of this failed trial, as first reported by News.com.au, was over AU$2.5 million.

The vast majority of the costs associated with the trial were in IT activities, according to the department in an answer to a question on notice from the last Senate Estimates hearing (PDF). These costs were put at AU$1.293 million.

The Department of Social Services had three staff members working on the trial from late 2013 until it was axed in February 2015, costing the taxpayer AU$453,506, but the department stated that these three employees were also working on other programs at the time.

The communications and media activities surrounding the trial were AU$310,480, putting the total cost of the trial for the department at AU$2.056 million.

These costs were "absorbed by the affected business areas" in the Department of Social Services, the department said.

A further AU$449,565 will be paid to the University of Queensland's Institute of Social Science Research, which was contracted in August 2014 to assess the Stronger Relationships trial for the department. The evaluation was cancelled when the trial ended, but the department was still liable to pay the university for work completed, and the expenses incurred as a result of the ending of the contract.

This means that for each AU$200 voucher, the government spent an additional AU$392.

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