Latest Public Sector News

09.12.13

Universal Credit will not reach all participants by 2017 deadline

Universal Credit will be delivered within budget, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has repeated – but he has acknowledged that the plan is now “different” to the original one.

He is to appear before the work and pensions select committee later today to be questioned on IT problems and delays to the programme. 700,000 claimants receiving Employment Support Allowance will not now be transferred to Universal Credit by 2017 – the initial deadline for the whole programme.

Universal Credit consolidates six working age benefits into one monthly online payment. The scheme has faced considerable criticism, most noticeably from the National Audit Office, which found that £34m spent on IT has been written off.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Duncan Smith said: “I do accept, of course, that this plan is different from the original plan.

“The plan that we’ve put together, which we actually put out at the end of last week demonstrated really that in essence by the end of 2017 the vast, vast majority of people will be on it.

“There’s one group we won’t have taken in to Universal Credit, which is those who are on ESA support [Employment and Support Allowance]…it’s about 700,000 people. The reason for that [is] we could easily have tried to rush those people in but we decided not to.

“It’s on budget. Some 6.5 million people will be on the system by the end of 2017.”

He added: “I introduced a ‘red team’ of outside experts to come in to look at the plan back at the end of 2011 for the very simple reason that I was concerned that we may end up repeating the same mistakes that were the last government’s over the rollout of tax credits and the health department which lost billions and billions. And we’re not going to do that because the plan now has been re-set.”

The DWP said on Thursday: “As announced in July, the department has been working in conjunction with the Government Digital Service to explore an enhanced IT system for Universal Credit that uses the latest in technological advances. Today, ministers confirm that this system has proved viable and the department will further develop this work with a view to rolling it out once testing is complete.

“While this work is undertaken, Universal Credit will continue to expand. It is now live in seven areas across the country, growing to 10 by spring 2014. From there, the roll-out will expand beyond the existing single claimant group, to new claims from couples and families in all of these areas. By the end of next year, Universal Credit will start also to expand to cover more of the north west. Universal Credit will therefore expand in scope and scale over the next two years.”

Duncan Smith denied claims made in reports last week that the Government Digital Service has stepped back from the project because of disagreements with the DWP over the approach to new IT development.

The DWP says that claims for Universal Credit are being taken in Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan, Warrington, Oldham, Hammersmith, Rugby and Inverness. By spring 2014, claims will be taken in Shotton, Bath and Harrogate, and by the same deadline, the ‘Claimant Commitment’ for new claims to Jobseeker’s Allowance will be completely rolled out to all Jobcentres.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Image c. Rui Vieira/ PA Wire

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