Headlines: February 12th, 2015

The government’s flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit ,will be available in 1 in 3 jobcentres across Great Britain during the next three months. This is in line with the revised timetable published in November 2014. The original timetable has slipped by 2 years and full implementation is now expected in 2019.

Universal Credit will also roll out to new areas between May and July 2015.

Universal Credit will roll up six benefits into what is claimed to be a simpler system which encourages work.

The two extension programmes stretching from now to July will only provide a service restricted to the relatively straightforward cases relating to single people, who would otherwise have been eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, including those with existing Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credit claims.

The new programmes stretching from now to July make no mention of providing a facility for the more complex claims. In November 2014 the service was opened up to families, couples with children and lone parents. This leads to the conclusion that the system is not yet coping adequately with the more complex claims.

The National Audit Office expressed concerned last year about the risks in implementing the Universal Credit programme and the potential for £2.8b additional costs.

In 2013 the Department halted work on the IT system it was developing and wrote off possibly £140m development costs. At the same time it started development of a ‘digital service’. The new implementation plan provided for the written off system to be used as a test bed and nursery to develop manual processes in parallel with development of a new concept ‘digital system’.

This change of approach reduced the delivery risks, but delayed implementation by some 2 years.?The DWP believes the additional costs of this approach are justified because it expects Universal Credit to achieve substantial benefits for society sooner and more safely. Since adopting the two track strategy in 2013, the Department has developed and refined its ‘test and learn’ approach while continuing to expand its live service.

The Department’s failure to offer a full service to include families, couples with young children and single parents, at the new locations, is a warning sign that all is not well with the new digital service.