A vaunted new upgrade for collecting historic criminal debt has been abruptly cancelled – because the government can no longer afford it.

The Ministry of Justice today said that changes to the court order enforcement service, including new systems and technology, have been put on hold.

In a statement headlined 'Compliance and enforcement work to continue unchanged’, the department said plans were ‘no longer affordable’ within the MoJ’s funding allocation for the 2015 spending review period.

The decision to suspend the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme (TCEP) comes as the government proceeds with ambitious plans for a £1.2bn technological overhaul of its courts and tribunals service. In May, the National Audit Office warned the scope of change may be ‘undeliverable’ and said the business case depended on approval from HM Treasury to plug a potential £177m funding gap.

Today’s statement added: ‘The work that is already underway has not been lost, the new ways of working including better enforcement strategies and administration will continue to apply.

‘In addition, focused work on the development of future service design will continue, so that we ensure it is ready should it be required in the future.’

In January, the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents court workers, warned the government against implementing TCEP until more information was known about the plans.

According to the NAO report, the programme was a relatively minor expenditure as part of the overall £1.2bn anticipated, being due to cost around £58m.

It was expected to increase income collection by around £50m a year from 2020/21 for the MoJ and third parties such as victims’ services.