Millions of pounds worth of taxpayers money is being used to prop up the Home Office computer system originally intended to ease the workload of the probation service. But the system still isn't working properly, according to the NAO (National Audit Office).

The probation system has cost 70 percent more than estimated (total spend is now up to £118m) and is the third IT project undertaken by the Home Office that has gone wrong. The previous cock-ups were the Passport Agency computer system and Nationality and Immigration projects.

The original target date for completion was March 1999, but at present only 20 percent of probation services are making use of the case management system, the NAO reported.

"While the Home Office has [completed a large installation], there are some serious lessons to be learnt from serious flaws," said Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO. "The probation service has an opportunity to address these issues as it develops a new IT strategy."

The NAO said the new system was "always likely to be a significant management challenge". It looks as though they were right.

"Many of the difficulties should have been foreseen," said David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts committee, in a press statement yesterday. He blamed a lack of IT experience for the problems.

The Home Office could not confirm when the system would be up and running effectively but said it hoped it would be by the end of the year.