Minister confirms Universal Credit roll-out will continue despite concerns

Government plans to plough on with Universal Credit despite calls to pause the project as people struggle to make claims successfully

Work and pensions secretary David Gauke has confirmed that the government will continue plans to complete the roll-out of the Universal Credit digital service by 2022, despite calls to halt the programme.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Gauke said the programme to introduce a fully digital service, replacing six different in-work welfare benefits with a single payment, “is working”.

“I can confirm that the roll-out will continue, and to the planned timetable,” he said. “We are not going to rush things – it is more important to get this right than to do it quickly, and this won’t be completed until 2022.”

A report by charity Citizens Advice earlier this year revealed several problems with the digital service, including people struggling to verify their identity online and lacking the digital skills to use the system.

The charity called for the roll-out to be paused until the issues are addressed.

The Department for Work and Pensions has been rolling out Universal Credit in stages. By the end of 2015, it had rolled out a limited version of the system, referred to as the “live service” but targeting only the simplest of claims and using an IT system run by external providers that is rarely updated.

The department began deploying the “full service” country-wide in May last year, covering the full replacement of six different in-work welfare benefits with a single payment. 

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The full service has been introduced to 101 job centres across the country so far. Yesterday, the government published its commencement order, confirming plans to ramp up deployment of the full service. This includes introducing it to “a further 45 job centres” this month alone.

Universal Credit has been beset by problems since its inception. In July last year, the then work and pensions secretary Damian Green changed the completion date from 2017 to 2022 – five years later than the original date set when the project was launched in 2013.

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