The next phase of the national IT rollout for the controversial Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Universal Credit programme has started, with the aim of being available in all job centres across the country by February 2016.
More than 150 UK job centres will be enrolled on the scheme in the next two months. This follows secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith’s initial announcement of the accelerated rollout plan in September 2014.
Duncan Smith claimed reforms to the welfare system have so far saved taxpayers £50bn, and said the rollout of Universal Credit nationwide will ensure more people are working rather than claiming unemployment benefits.
“This landmark event is a key part of our long-term economic plan, which guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits,” he said.
“The evidence today shows that under Universal Credit people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.”
Research for the launch revealed that within a four-month period Universal Credit claimants are 13% more likely to be in jobs than those on Jobseekers’ Allowance.
But the rollout starting today (16 February 2015) does not cover all claimants. Of those participating in Universal Credit, only 32 job centres will offer it to families, 96 will offer it to couples without children and 112 to single people.
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Only a small postcode area in south London will see the DWP roll the service out to all types of claimant to test the digital service that will eventually replace the system currently in use.
The rollout does not cover all of those who will eventually need the service, and it is estimated that by 2017 some benefit claimants will still not have moved to Universal Credit.
Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms recently criticised the speed of the project following the latest Universal Credit update, which showed the number of people currently claiming the new benefit wasfewer than 3% of Duncan Smith’s original forecast of one million people on the system by April 2014.
The IT system being extended from today will eventually be replaced with a digital system. DWP made the decision in 2013 to scrap £40.1m of IT work carried out on Universal Credit, and write off a further £91m over a five-year period before the new digital system is finished.
A portion of the current system will be used alongside the digital service to support the nationwide rollout of the fully digital Universal Credit system.
In 2013, DWP decided to use the current IT system to enrol claimants and to support pilot projects before a future full rollout of the digital system – the first of which was launched in Sutton in 2014.
Despite the problems that have delayed the project, Duncan Smith has consistently insisted it remains on track. Following his announcement of the "twin-track" approach to the project in 2013, he said: "There is no debacle on Universal Credit."