DWP expected to start ‘slowly’ moving 1.7 million people to Universal Credit within weeks
Ministers have drawn up plans to start ‘slowly’ moving the first of 1.7 million benefit claimants to Universal Credit within weeks.
Charities and the government’s welfare watchdog have sparked fears over plans to restart ‘managed migration’ of old-style benefit claimants. The transfer has been suspended due to Covid – but ministers plan to restart it this spring, the The mirror reported.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will start with a small number of tax credit claimants, up to a cap of 10,000 households. They then plan to remove the cap and move to disability claimants and other benefits, so everyone gets the new six-in-one benefit by the end of 2024.
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But the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has warned that the change “creates significant risk” for benefit claimants, many of whom have “complex lives”. It also creates risks for the DWP in carrying out its plan, the committee warned.
The chairman, Dr Stephen Brien, warned there must be “independent oversight and review”. He said he would seek further advice from experts on plans to lift the 10,000 household cap.
Ministers insist Universal Credit is often more generous than old-fashioned benefits, having been repeatedly forced to reform it amid public anger and poor Britons turning to food banks. The six-week wait has been reduced to five, benefits for those in work have been increased and the amount given for debt repayment has been reduced.
But campaigners point out that some people could still be worse off. Anela Anwar, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Z2K, said lifting the 10,000 cap needs to get further approval in parliament.
She added: “This ensures that DWP avoids a repeat of the chaotic early stages of Universal Credit, when many people were left with nothing to live on for weeks and sometimes even months. This led to MPs receiving hundreds of complaints from desperate and angry voters.
Dr. Brien was one of the original masterminds behind Universal Credit and faced questions about his impartiality in 2020 when he became SSAC chairman. He hit back at the time, insisting his work would be “evidence-based”. He told ministers on the latest change: ‘I can guarantee that we do not wish to delay the process unduly.
“We will not be undertaking a full-scale public consultation on this occasion but intend to seek input from a small number of experts, including those with significant experience or expertise in agile processes and their governance.”
But he added: ‘In order for the public to have confidence in this process and to minimize risk, further consideration needs to be given to providing appropriate independent oversight and review of the program as it moves forward.’
DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said in November he was “committed” to seeing Universal Credit fully rolled out by December 2024.
He told MPs: ‘We got the funding in the spending review to finish this on time.’
Advantage general manager Neil Couling suggested the transfer would be a “slow, slow, slow experience”, adding: “You have to grow your processes and do it with small volumes.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is a modern dynamic benefit that supports those in work and out of work. We have always been clear about our ambition to move people away from legacy systems, which are complex, inefficient and based on aging and inflexible IT.
“The Department will continue its regular engagement with the committee and our ambition remains to see the rollout of Universal Credit delivered safely and on time by 2024.”