Nine out of 10 benefit claimants in a pilot project for Universal Credit submitted their claims online, according to a government survey.
The figure is ahead of the original targets for Universal Credit, which anticipated an initial take-up of 50% in 2013, rising to 80% from 2017.
However, the Universal Credit pilots surveyed in the first four “pathfinder” areas of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Wigan, Oldham and Warrington, are restricted to a demographic group – single people with no children not currently receiving other benefits such as Jobseekers’ Allowance or Income Support – that is unlikely to be representative of the full spectrum of claimants once the project is rolled out more widely.
The pilot claimants are more likely to be younger and therefore more internet-savvy, according to Helen Milner, chief executive of the Tinder Foundation, a social enterprise that helps the digitally excluded access the internet.
“The real test for Universal Credit will be when the roll-out goes wider. Those currently claiming are new claimants with no dependents, who do not receive any additional benefits and don’t own their own home. These are the less complex claimants, and they’re likely to be younger, less socially excluded and more skilled,” she wrote on her blog.
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From the pathfinder project claimants who used the online service, 73% said they managed to complete their application first time, while 13% said the website crashed.
The future of the system developed for the Universal Credit pilot project is still shrouded in uncertainty. Ministers are considering throwing away much or even all of the £303m of work developed so far due to serious shortcomings, such as a lack of security and fraud protection, and functional limitations such as claimants being unable to amend their 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 Department for Work and Pensions is due to announce its revised plans for Universal Credit IT by the end of the year.
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