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Chris Leslie: I am sorry to intervene, as I know we are getting short of time. The analysis of the support needs of an individual, either face to face at the first point of application or subsequently in recognition of exceptions such as weekly payments or direct payments for landlords, is a key point. How will it be done? Will it be a local service? Is it assumed that predominantly local authorities will pick up those responsibilities? I want to gain a sense of who will be dealing with these things, as the Department for Work and Pensions in Whitehall will not be doing the face-to-face work.

Maria Miller: I think the hon. Gentleman is right, and in the pilots we shall pick up some of those issues, particularly the sorts of support that local authorities could provide. Jobcentre Plus will also be involved from the launch of universal credit as an on-site, readily available resource. The hon. Gentleman is right that we have to make sure that the appropriate support is there for the people who might need it, and we want to ensure that such systems are available so that universal credit becomes the success we know it will be.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of understanding the phased migration fully. We recognise that the move from one welfare system to another needs to be managed carefully, so that no one is left without the support that they need. The transition from the old benefit system to universal credit will therefore take place in three phases over four years, ending in 2017 when between 12 million and 13 million benefit and tax credit claims will become 8 million universal credit claims.

In the first phase, beginning in October 2013, all new claims to the current benefits and credits will be phased out by April 2014, with new claims to housing benefits and tax credits being the last to end in that month. Natural migrations to universal credit as a result of a significant change of circumstances will also be taken from October 2013.

In the second phase, which will begin in April 2014, existing claimants whose circumstances have not changed will start to be transferred to universal credit through managed change. It is expected that, as most of the households whose members are actively seeking work will have been moved through the new claims or natural changes route by April 2014, the households involved in that phase will generally be those with people in part-time work and those that are economically inactive. Priority will be given to households the nature of whose work makes them most likely to benefit from universal credit.

In the third and final phase, from the end of 2015 until the end of 2017, the remaining households will be moved into the new system. Local circumstances, such as staffing turnover, contractual obligations and demography, will be taken into account. The households will be moved on to universal credit in good time before housing benefit loads become too small to be viable. Within those parameters, the focus on work and poverty will be retained. That should allow local authorities to plan with more certainty over the medium term.

The hon. Gentleman rightly sought clarification of the important issue of housing benefit for pensioners. Following the abolition of housing benefit, help with rent and child costs will be provided through pension credit, and will broadly follow the existing rules.

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The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of information technology issues. I am not sure that I can cover all of them today, but I can assure him categorically that there will be no offshore outsourcing of the administration of universal credit, that the Department will send no existing British jobs overseas, and that no personal data are held or can be accessed outside the United Kingdom. Many sub-contractors started using overseas staff under the last Government. We are considering how jobs that used to be sent offshore could be moved back to the UK in the future. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would welcome such a move.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of real-time information, but I shall bring him up to date in case he is interested. Real-time information is being introduced in HMRC to improve the operation of the pay-as-you-earn system, which will make it easier for employers and HMRC to share information. Under universal credit, entitlement for people who pay tax on their earnings through PAYE will correspond directly with earnings information received through HMRC’s automatic real-time information PAYE data transfer.

HMRC began pilot-testing RTI in April, and has already introduced 10 employer schemes representing a range of sizes with the aim of ironing out any wrinkles. I understand that the initial pilot stage has gone well, and that a further 310 employers joined the pilot yesterday. We are working closely with HMRC to ensure that systems are in place for the introduction of universal credit.

The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the important role of local authorities. They have been, and will continue to be, integral to the development of universal credit. We have undertaken extensive work with authorities to ensure that they help us to develop universal credit, and to tap into their expertise. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local authorities associations of England, Scotland and Wales for their constructive engagement with us, especially those authorities that have already committed time and resources to helping to make universal credit a success.

On 21 March the permanent secretaries of my Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government wrote to chief executives informing them that local authorities will be expected to provide face-to-face support for certain universal credit claimants who will need more intensive help to access the new benefit.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of staff. Local authorities will want to ensure that they

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deal with that issue correctly. When universal credit comes into force in October 2013, local authorities will have an important role to play, and that role will begin to change, too, so they will go through a period of transition. They will need to make sure they continue to work with us through this process. The Local Government Association and the DWP recently issued a joint prospectus calling on local authorities to work on the pilots I have mentioned. We recognise that costs will be associated with that process and the wind-down of housing benefit, and we will discuss that with DCLG and the local authorities in due course.

Chris Leslie: The Minister says that there will be a negotiation and that she will discuss this matter with local authorities, but she has to accept that central Government have decided to introduce the universal credit, and that a number of housing benefit and local authority staff will be made redundant. In a sense, the Government are forcing local authorities to make their staff redundant. The Minister has to accept that they must be compensated by central Government for that.

Maria Miller: The hon. Gentleman has made a number of assumptions. As I have outlined, the introduction of universal credit will take place over a number of years. Local authorities already know it is coming, so it would be prudent of them to be planning for the changes and to make sure that they cause as little disruption as possible to their staff. Local authorities will have an important role to play in the future, whether in respect of their staff or of minimising any costs associated with the change. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to make assumptions as to how local authorities will deal with this process. I think most of them will want to plan the transfer sensibly and avoid any unnecessary costs.

I hope I have covered the majority of the points the hon. Gentleman raised. This debate has provided us with a tremendous opportunity to discuss an important part of the Government’s reform agenda, which is based on making sure that work pays, and that we have a strong and robust benefit system that supports families in the right way in order to make sure they can lift themselves out of poverty and that people, both disabled and non-disabled, have the opportunity to go to work. These reforms are a central plank of Government policy.

Question put and agreed to.

10.18 pm

House adjourned.