Universal Credit roll-out: Autumn/Winter 2017

19 October 2017

Universal Credit (UC) is a new benefit which is replacing means-tested social security benefits and tax credits for people of working age.  The aim is to simplify and streamline the benefits system, improve work incentives, tackle poverty among low income families, and reduce the scope for error and fraud. Around 7 million individuals and families are expected to receive UC when it is fully introduced.

The UC roll-out timetable has been pushed back several times. Following early problems, the entire programme was “reset” in early 2013. In 2016 DWP began rolling out the “Full Service” – the final digital version of UC, available for all claimant groups – using a “test and learn” approach. From October 2017, roll-out of the Full Service is accelerating and under the latest plans it is expected to be operational in all parts of the United Kingdom by September 2018. The remaining benefit and tax credit claimants would then transfer to UC between July 2019 and March 2022.

In February 2017 the former Work and Pensions Committee began an inquiry (relaunched by its successor Committee following the General election) following receipt of “compelling evidence” of problems with the roll-out of the Universal Credit Full Service. Issues highlighted by local authorities, housing providers, charities and pressure groups include claimants experiencing hardship and falling into debt as a result of the minimum six week wait before the first payment of UC, and significant increases in rent arrears.

Concerns about the impact of the full service have led to calls on the government to pause the further roll-out of UC to allow problems to be addressed. On 18 September the Work and Pensions Committee Chair, Frank Field, called on the government to heed the “unanimous call we are hearing from front line providers” to pause the full service roll-out, to prevent a “human and political catastrophe.”

Speaking on 2 October, the secretary of state for work and pensions insisted that Universal Credit was working and said that roll-out would proceed according to the planned timetable. Guidance for DWP staff is being “refreshed” to ensure that “anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front.

A research paper ‘Universal Credit roll-out: Autumn/Winter 2017’ (39 pages) has been published which provides policy information, commentary and statistics on the ongoing roll-out of the Universal Credit Full Service.