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Roll-out of Universal Credit to be accelerated

The roll-out of Universal Credit will be accelerated across the country, work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith announced at the Conservative party conference.

Duncan Smith said he promised to “finish what we started” – but under a new boss. Howard Shiplee, who had been in charge of the Universal Credit programme since 2013, is to step down, to be replaced as responsible officer by Neil Couling, who runs the nation’s Jobcentre Plus network.

Universal Credit brings together six benefits and tax credits, including Income Support and Housing Benefit and tax credits into a single monthly payment.

The controversial scheme has been beset by delays and criticism. In November last year PSE reported the Public Accounts Committee release of a report that criticised “alarmingly weak” and “extraordinarily poor” management of the programme, saying it had failed to develop a comprehensive plan. The programme has also suffered from major IT problems and a total of £600m was written off last year when the project was ‘reset’.

Universal Credit has undergone several big timetable revisions. By April this year, under the original blueprint, around one million people were due to be claiming UC but the actual figure was about 7,000.

Duncan Smith’s announcement also contradicts the warnings of former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake. In a speech last week he warned that the timetable for Universal Credit is “undeliverable”, saying that it is “too tight” and that the Department for Work and Pensions has a “culture of good news” that prevents this from being recognised.

The new service is already available in over 50 Jobcentres in England, Wales and Scotland, and will be available in nearly 100 Jobcentres by Christmas.

Duncan Smith said: “Universal Credit is a vision for a new welfare settlement; a welfare state fit for the 21st century; a testament to the hard work of Jobcentres and local authorities that we are now implementing it. It has now rolled out in the north west of England – to couples, shortly to families, to more than one in eight jobcentres by Christmas – safely and securely as I always said.

“Today I can announce that we are going to accelerate the delivery of Universal Credit from the new year, bringing forward the national rollout through 2015-16 to every single community across Great Britain. Secure national delivery, yet at the same time, delivering that life change at a local level; strengthening community partnerships, helping vulnerable households. Not just helping the economy but reducing child poverty as well.”

(Image: c. Helen Cobain)

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