Universal Credit implementation: monitoring DWP's performance in 2012-13: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2013-14 - Work and Pensions Committee Contents



The Government welcomes the fifth report of the Work and Pensions Select Committee 2013-14, which considered the progress with Universal Credit implementation in 2012-13.

Universal Credit is the biggest transformation of the benefits system in the last 60 years. It aims to make work pay and is part of the Government's long term plan to get more people into work and off benefits. Universal Credit provides a new single system of means-tested support for working-age people who are in or out of work. It aims to reduce the number of workless households by reducing the financial and administrative barriers to work that exist in the current system of benefits and tax credits.

From June, Universal Credit will expand in the North-West of England, with more sites coming on-line each week. During the summer the new benefit will also be available for new claims from couples in a number of Jobcentres that already deliver Universal Credit, expanding to all the current live sites over time. When fully rolled out, Universal Credit will bring £35 billion of benefits to the economy—helping hundreds of thousands of people into work.

The Committee's report is supportive of the principles of Universal Credit but highlights some areas where the Committee have concerns. This response addresses those concerns.

Progress with Universal Credit implementation

DWP told us that it intended to clarify the impact of the changes to the implementation timetable on the overall costs and savings of the programme in the revised Business Case for Universal Credit, which it has now presented to the Treasury. We recommend that DWP makes its revised Business Case available to this Committee. We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, DWP set out: revised estimates of UC caseloads and costs for each year to 2017-18; and the future programme management and governance arrangements for UC. (Paragraph 31)

As the Committee recognise in their report, it is not normal practice for the Government to share Business Cases and we would not do so in this instance.

However, given the importance of the Universal Credit Programme and the Committee's key role in providing effective scrutiny and challenge, on this occasion we would be happy for DWP officials to meet with the Committee, to discuss Universal Credit further.

We would also like to offer the opportunity for members to visit a Universal Credit live service site. This would allow members to meet with staff who will give further insight into the delivery of Universal Credit.

With these proposals in mind, we have sent an invitation to the Committee to visit our live service in Hammersmith.

In regard to revised estimates and management and governance arrangements, some of this information is already in the public domain, and in line with the Government's transparency agenda, will continue to be updated publicly. Additional discussion can take place at the proposed meeting between the Committee and DWP officials.

Local authorities need greater clarity on the implications for them of being required to continue to administer Housing Benefit for longer than anticipated, due to the delays to Universal Credit. We recommend that, in response to this Report, DWP sets out the details of the financial support which will be provided to local authorities in 2014-15 and 2015-16 to cover the additional costs of continuing to administer Housing Benefit. (Paragraph 33)

DWP has already notified local authorities of their 2014-15 Housing Benefit Allocation.[1]

With regard to Housing Benefit administration subsidy funding for 2015/16, DWP is engaged with representatives from the local authority associations to ensure that this Department is in a position to inform local authorities of their individual allocations, in sufficient time before the start of the 2015/16 financial year.

Universal Credit implementation and IT development

We recommend that, in response to this report, DWP provide more details about what the end-state solution for UC IT means in practical terms. It should also set out its latest estimates of:

  • the costs of developing the end-state solution beyond November 2014, including the separate costs of employing additional in-house IT specialists; and of contracts with external consultants and IT providers; and
  • when the end-state solution will be ready to test on the first 100 claimant households; when and how it will be extended to a more representative number of claimants; and when it is expected to be fully implemented.

We also recommend that, in light of the small number of claimants currently receiving Universal Credit and the slow progress, DWP consider again whether it would not be more effective, and represent better value for money, to focus solely on the end-state solution and abandon the twin-track approach. (Paragraph 53)

Much has been achieved since April 2013 to deliver a live service and prepare claimants and staff for the cultural change that Universal Credit will bring. The Universal Credit service is now available to people living in 10 areas of England, Scotland and Wales providing stronger incentives and support to get into work and to earn more.

It includes:

  • The Claimant Commitment, an agreement each claimant makes recognising the steps they must take in return for the support they receive. We have also successfully introduced the Claimant Commitment for new claims to Jobseeker's Allowance in every one of the 714 Jobcentres across Great Britain between October 2013 and April 2014.
  • A new, more challenging and supportive relationship between claimants and their work services coaches. 26,300 staff have been trained to support the Claimant Commitment, and some 600,000 claimants have signed new agreements setting out what they will do to find work in return for their benefits. This new regime has empowered jobcentre staff to challenge claimants—ensuring they fulfil their responsibilities to find work. In return claimants are receiving expert help and advice from their work coach encouraging and motivating them in their search for work. Our initial evaluation of Universal Credit (Nov 2013) shows that this is working. People claiming Universal Credit reported looking for work for over 27 hours a week, as compared to 14 hours a week for a comparable group under the JSA regime.
  • Transforming digital services for claimants, working alongside our online Universal Jobmatch service and helping thousands of people find work. The Universal Credit Pathfinder has already been offering more online services with interim pathfinder evaluation showing that the vast majority of Universal Credit claimants are already making their claim online (90%).

The next step is to open the new benefit to claimants across the North West—as part of our safe, secure roll out. This will enable us to learn from the live running of Universal Credit at scale and for more claimant types, including the more vulnerable and complex.

We are now working to enhance the future service as we roll out—making the best use of the latest technology, the substantial IT we already have in place and the lessons learned from understanding of how our claimants use Universal Credit.

The future service for Universal Credit will deliver the policy through the provision of a multi-channel service that makes greater use of modern technology to ensure the system is as effective, simple and transparent as possible.

We expect the future service will start to be tested with a small number of claimants by the end of this calendar year to learn about the core service. Following this, and based on the learning, the future service will be tested with a progressively greater number of claimants. The first such extension is currently planned for six months after the first test.

Our plan is to make the full transition to Universal Credit in a safe and managed way. The transition from the current system of benefits and tax credits to Universal Credit will be gradual. Progressive national rollout started in October 2013 and will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016, having closed down new claims to the legacy benefits it replaced; with the majority of the remaining legacy case load moving to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017.

As we have said earlier, DWP officials would be happy to cover these aspects as part of the proposals to meet with the Committee in the Hammersmith live service site.

Support for vulnerable claimants

The Government has acknowledged that vulnerable people will need support to adjust to Universal Credit. It has set out in its Local Support Services Framework (LSSF) how it envisages this support being provided in partnership with local authorities, housing providers and the voluntary sector. However, the initial version of the LSSF published in 2013 lacked detail on how it would operate in practice, including the funding arrangements. We regret DWP's lack of progress in giving its LSSF partners a clear indication of the additional responsibilities they will be expected to take on under this new arrangement and, crucially, the central government funding they can expect to receive. The Government has acknowledged that the LSSF is "almost as important as Universal Credit itself". We recommend that it therefore ensures that detailed information about its operation and funding is set out when the final version of the LSSF is published in autumn 2014. (Paragraph 60)

The Government is committed to providing as much detail as possible to ensure that all delivery partners have a clear understanding of activities required and funding availability. We intend to trial elements of the framework with Jobcentre Plus and Local Authority partners this year; this will enable us to test key assumptions, including how finance models support LSSF delivery, and gather intelligence to understand how the LSSF approach will work in practice ahead of full Universal Credit roll out.

This activity will contribute to the next definitive version of the LSSF which will be published in autumn 2015. This will allow us to take account of this valuable learning and evidence, and will assist with Local Authority resource planning for 2016, by the end of which we intend that all areas of Great Britain will go live with new claims for Universal Credit from all claimant groups. However, this information will not be our only communication on LSSF. We will share a further update of information in October 2014 and we plan to share examples of good practice from partnerships across England, Scotland and Wales on a regular basis ahead of the final publication of the LSSF.

Local Support Services communications were launched during week commencing 27 April at a series of webinars with all LAs and DWP District Managers. Expressions of Interest in trialling will be received in June with successful bids announced later that month, with trials up and running by September 2014.

DWP's co-operation with the scrutiny process

Effective scrutiny by select committees relies on government departments providing them with accurate, timely and detailed information. This has not always happened to date in relation to our scrutiny of the problems with Universal Credit implementation. It is not acceptable for Ministers to provide information about changes to major policy implementation to this Committee, and indeed to Parliament and the public more broadly, only when forced to do so by the imminent prospect of being held to account in a public oral evidence session. We recommend that, in response to this Report, DWP sets out how it will improve the frankness, accuracy and timeliness of the information it provides to us, to ensure that it meets the required levels of transparency between the Government and select committees, and that we are not hampered in trying to carry out our formal scrutiny role effectively. (Paragraph 71)

The Department does not accept the premise behind this recommendation. Ministers have consistently provided the Committee with information as soon as decisions have been made, with Ministers then appearing promptly to explain these decisions in person. A good example of that is the three hour evidence session on 5 December to explain decisions that had just been made. The Government does not regard it as necessary to provide a running commentary on the day to day management of the many large and complex programmes currently underway.

We will continue to be open, accurate and timely in sharing information and have offered the additional opportunity for DWP officials to meet with the Committee to discuss Universal Credit.

A vast amount of information on the development of Universal Credit has also been published and debates have taken place in the public domain, including:

a.  A great deal of information through the Government's consultation process, and White Paper— "Universal Credit: welfare that works", published in November 2010.

b.  The Welfare Reform Bill, published on 16 February 2011.

c.  The Welfare Reform Act 2012 which received Royal Assent on 8 March 2012 and was accompanied by a 94 page Explanatory Note.

d.  The Major Projects Authority's Annual Report includes a set of combined data relating to the Government's major projects, including Universal Credit.

e.  National Audit Office Report—"Universal Credit: early progress"—published on 5 September 2013, and the Public Accounts Committee Report of the same name that was published on 7 November 2013, and the subsequent PAC hearing which assessed the implications for value for money of the Department's progress against its plans, and reviewed the Department's management of the Programme. The Treasury Minute of January 2014 updated Parliament on progress against these recommendations.

f.  The published evaluation framework for Universal Credit: "Universal Credit: how we will evaluate it" is also publicly available. "Universal Credit Pathfinder Evaluation: Interim Results From The Universal Credit Claimant Survey, Wave 1" —published on 29 November 2013, details the first actual results from the Pathfinder, providing evidence on a broad range of factors, including, attitudes, experiences, behaviours and outcomes of the first Universal Credit claimants.

g.  There has been regular Parliamentary challenge and accountability, including lengthy discussions at the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, Ministerial Statements and Parliamentary Questions. This includes both formal and informal appearances before the Work and Pensions Select Committee specifically on UC on eight occasions over the past 3 years.

h.  The key information aimed at keeping claimants and stakeholders informed about UC is published on Gov.uk.[2] This includes a partner toolkit and a UC Video explaining how Universal Credit works.[3]

1   See: Housing Benefit Circulars available at






2   See https://www.gov.uk/search?q=universal+credit Back

3   Universal Credit toolkit for partner organisations available at https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit-toolkit-for-partner-organisations


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Prepared 27 June 2014