Welfare policy changes have added a further four years to the troubled project’s timetable
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said it now does not expect the long-delayed Universal Credit welfare reform programme to be completely in place until 2022, due to changes required by shifts in policy introduced in last year’s budget.
The department denied that the change amounted to a further delay, saying that previously set targets were being met, but said that the additional time was needed to introduce new functions required by the policy changes.
“The Government is making provision for the additional work to deliver these reforms and the other changes announced in Summer Budget 2015 by reshaping the next phase of Universal Credit rollout,” said Damien Green, the secretary of state for work and pensions, in a statement delivered to parliament.
He said the DWP plans to continue rolling out Universal Credit to five jobcentres a month to June 2017, reaching 30 in July 2017, and then 55 jobcentres per month between October and December of next year, and finally 65 per month beginning in February 2018 and finishing in September 2018.
The migration of existing benefit claims is then expected to begin in July 2019 and complete in March 2022, Green said.
“I believe this plan is the best way to ensure secure delivery of the Government’s welfare reform priorities, increasing employment outcomes and supporting claimants at an affordable cost for the taxpayer,” he stated.
Answering questions on Universal Credit’s progress before a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session, DWP permanent secretary Sir Robert Devereux and Universal Credit senior responsible owner (SRO) Neil Couling said the changes introduced in last year’s budget had significantly affected the programme’s progress.
Couling compared the situation to beginning construction of a three-bedroom house and being asked to add extra rooms after the building works had begun.
“We have been working with the problem that the scope of the programme has been increased by the desire of the government to do more welfare reform,” he said.
Universal Credit is intended to merge employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit into a single payment and is currently in use at 18 job centres around the country using previously developed computer systems.
After redesigning the programme in 2013 the DWP said it planned to continue rolling out the payment nationwide using existing technologies while separately developing new, specialised IT systems for the service.
In late 2014 Universal Credit was expected to be in place by 2018, and the latest projections add another four years to that plan. The DWP says it has spent £1.146bn on the programme to date.
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