The transfer of 1.7 million benefit claimants onto Universal Credit put on hold due to Covid will begin within weeks, it is understood. Ministers are believed to have made plans to “slowly” move people across amid a push to restart the process this spring.
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 onto disability and other benefit claimants, to have everyone on the new six-in-one benefit by the end of 2024, The Mirror reports.
But charities and the government’s welfare watchdog have raised fears over resuming the “managed migration” of old-style benefit claimants. One charity leader said the Department for Work and Pensions must avoid “a repeat of the shambolic early stages of Universal Credit”.
Dr Stephen Brien, chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee, said there needed to be “independent oversight and scrutiny”, while telling ministers: “I can provide assurance that we do not wish to unduly delay the process.
“We will not be undertaking a large-scale public consultation on this occasion but intend to seek the advice of a small number of experts, including those with significant experience or expertise of agile processes and their governance.”
Universal Credit has been reformed several times already. The six-week wait was cut to five, allowances for people in work were raised, and the amount given to debt repayments was cut.
Anela Anwar, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Z2K, said lifting the 10,000 cap must get fresh approval in Parliament. She added: “It ensures DWP avoids a repeat of the shambolic early stages of Universal Credit, when many people were left without anything to live on for weeks or sometimes even months on end. That resulted in MPs getting hundreds of complaints from desperate and angry constituents.”
DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said in November that he was “determined” to see Universal Credit fully rolled out by December 2024. He told MPs: “We got the funding in the spending review to finish this on time.”
The benefit’s director general Neil Couling suggested the transfer would be a “slow, slow, slow experience”, adding: “You need to develop your processes and do that with small volumes.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is a modern dynamic benefit which supports people in and out of work. We have always been clear about our ambition to move people over from the legacy systems, which are complex, inefficient and based on aging, 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.”