Just 1% of benefit claimants on Universal Credit

Just one percent of benefit claimants are currently claiming Universal Credit, according to government statistics out today.

Despite this, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insists that plans to roll out the new benefit system are “on track” and “making good progress”.

Universal Credit, which aims to merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working credit was originally supposed to be introduced across the UK between October 2013 and April 2014.

However the programme was ‘reset’ in April 2013 with new management and a new timetable, after problems with the IT systems became apparent.

The DWP is now developing a new 'digital solution' to replace existing error-prone systems. The department may have to write off at least £663 million on IT for the project, top HM Treasury official Sharon White told MPs on a select committee last December

According to the latest DWP figures, the number of people claiming Universal Credit is currently 52,630, out of 5.4 million working-age benefit claimants

As of 12 March the new benefit was available in just 148 jobcentres out of a total of 750 across the UK, the statistics show. Two-thirds of claimants are male while 53 percent are aged under 25.

However, the DWP claimed that since the figures were collected last month, the total number of jobcentres has increased to 210 and will reach 227 on Monday 20 April.

“Our plan is on track and we are making good progress, with Universal Credit already available in over 200 jobcentres. Every week we receive nearly 3,000 claims for Universal Credit and almost a third of those claimants are already in work," a spokesman said.

The future of Universal Credit is uncertain if there is a change of government, however. In its manifesto this week the Labour party reiterated plans to pause rollout of Universal Credit and conduct a three-month review before deciding how and whether to continue the programme, if it wins power in the general election next month.

It has appointed a ‘rescue committee’ of council leaders, CIOs, union representatives, policy experts and academics tasked with advising the party on how to rescue the delivery and improve the design of the project.

A poll by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union last month found that 90 percent of frontline Universal Credit staff believe IT systems for the scheme are "less than adequate".

The survey added to evidence that existing IT systems for Universal Credit are unworkable. The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report last November that said systems “depend heavily on manual intervention and will only handle a small number of claims”.

The new digital solution, which is supposed to eventually replace existing systems, is currently being trialled on first-time single claimants in Sutton.

However the new solution is already six months behind schedule just 22 months since it started being developed, according to a Public Accounts Committee report in February.

MPs criticised the dual development approach as “complicated and expensive” and said problems with the programme were exacerbated by an ongoing lack of transparency in the DWP and an unwillingness to ‘face up to past failings’.

The department has not published plans for the development of the digital solution or a timetable for when it expects it to replace the existing systems.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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