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700,000 benefit claimants miss out on Universal Credit deadline

Caroline Baldwin

The secretary for work and pensions has admitted the Universal Credit benefit scheme will miss its 2017 deadline.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said some benefits claimants will not be moved on to the reformed Universal Credit system by its 2017 deadline.

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Secretary for work and pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, said in an interview with the BBC that people receiving Employment Support Allowance may not be transferred in time.

He said this group may take longer to transfer because project manager, Howard Shiplee, may wish to take more time with the vulnerable group.

The government estimates around 700,000 people in this group will be moved over to Universal Credit after the 2017 deadline. But the Department for Work and Pensions said between 6.5 and 7 million claimants will be on the new system by 2017.

A statement from the DWP said: “Most of the existing benefit claimants will be moved over to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017. Decisions on the later stages of Universal Credit roll-out will also be informed by the completion of the enhanced IT, and these decisions will determine the final details for how people transition to the new benefit.”

This announcement came only hours before the chancellor’s Autumn Statement speech.

The welfare reform IT programme will replace six existing benefit and tax credit systems on a single system, but has so far been plagued with problems.

Ministers are considering abandoning much or even all of the £303m of work developed so far after serious shortcomings, including a lack of security and fraud protection, and functional limitations such as claimants being unable to amend details online.

The IT behind Universal Credit was slammed in recent months in highly critical reports by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee. Some £34m of work has already been written off, with suggestions that as much as £140m could yet be scrapped – or even that the whole system will eventually be thrown away and a new one developed from scratch.

The DWP today outlined the next stage of delivery of the programme, which focuses on a “safe and secure roll-out".

In July, the director general of the government’s Universal Credit programme denied problems with the IT platform, but said plans were being put into action to work with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to ensure the system kept up to date with changes in technology.

Today, the department confirmed it will further develop this work with a view to rolling it out after completing testing. While the system is live in seven areas, it said this will increase to 10 by spring 2014.

Following this the DWP plans to include multiple claims from couples and families in this area, before expanding to cover more of the north-west of England.

The department will expand the system as it is developed to allow a better understanding of how people will use it.

The DWP said this "also allows higher volumes of people to benefit from the better work incentives that come with the new benefit. Importantly, this approach will still allow the Universal Credit programme to roll out within the original budget.”


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