Universal Credit: managed migration Contents


1.Universal Credit (UC) is a radical change to the existing welfare system. It subsumes six separate benefits into one, paid as a single, monthly payment in arrears. From this, claimants are expected to manage all of their household living costs and expenses—including housing costs, which were usually paid direct to the landlord for social housing or vulnerable tenants under the system UC replaces (the “legacy system”). The process of transferring people claiming legacy benefits onto Universal Credit is called “migration”.

2.Migration can happen in two ways:

i)‘Natural’ migration. This is when a citizen’s circumstances change and they try to make a claim for a legacy benefit. They discover they can only claim UC instead.

ii)‘Managed’ migration, whereby claimants of legacy benefits will move from legacy benefits to UC without a change in circumstances. The Department plans to begin testing managed migration in 2019, with a view to migrating larger numbers of claimants from 2020 onwards.

3.In June 2018, the Government published in draft the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (Managed Migration) Amendment Regulations 2018.1 These Regulations set out the process for managed migration. The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) considered this draft at its meeting on 20 June 2018. In view of “the numbers that would be affected over a sustained period (around three million people in two million households)” and “the scale of the operational challenge for the Department”, SSAC decided to examine the regulations in more detail and to launch a consultation on them.2 On 18 October 2018 we took oral evidence on the Regulations from Alok Sharma MP, Minister of State for Employment, and Neil Couling, Director General, Universal Credit Programme. It became clear to us, even before SSAC’s report was published, that the Government would have to make substantial changes to its draft Regulations.

4.SSAC’s consultation on the Regulations received 455 responses—a record. It sent its report, containing recommendations for changes, to the then Secretary of State, Esther McVey MP, on 5 October. We wrote to Alok Sharma MP, Minister of State for Employment, on 24 October asking him to provide this Committee with a chance to scrutinise a new version of the Regulations before it was laid before Parliament.3 On 1 November, he wrote to decline this request.4 We wrote again on 2 November, but once again our request was declined.5 On 5 November, the Government published:6

On the same day, the then Secretary of State made an oral statement to the House of Commons. She made a commitment that the Regulations would be debated in the main House of Commons Chamber.7

5.The Department’s key changes to the Regulations included:

a)Extending the minimum “notice period” that legacy benefit claimants receive before they are required to claim for Universal Credit from one month to three months.8

b)Removing draft Regulation 48(2). This means that migrating claimants who make a “defective” claim followed by a successful one would retain any transitional protection they might be eligible for.9

c)Establishing a “grace period” of one month for all claimants. This means that if a claimant misses their deadline to apply for UC but makes an application within a month of that deadline they will retain any transitional protection they might have been entitled to. Previously this was restricted to claimants in some, very limited circumstances.10

d)Introducing additional payments of two weeks of income-related Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance, similar to those already in place for Housing Benefit.11 These are known as “run-ons”.12

6.The draft Regulations for “managed migration” to Universal Credit that are currently before the House are a significant improvement on the Government’s original proposals. We warmly welcome the fact that the Government has listened to concerns and acted on some of them. Nevertheless, major areas of concern about the Regulations remain. We are making this Report as a matter of urgency, to inform Parliament’s scrutiny of the Regulations. We have had time only to make a preliminary assessment of the Government’s approach. We will continue to scrutinise the Government’s plans for managed migration—including how it plans to apply the Regulations—as they develop.

Scrutiny of the Regulations

7.The new version of the Regulations published on 5 November differs significantly from the original draft. As we have said, these changes are welcome. But there has been no opportunity for detailed scrutiny of these substantial changes by this Committee, by the SSAC, or by claimants and the organisations who represent them.

8.We asked Sir Ian Diamond, Chair of the SSAC, whether the SSAC would report on the amended regulations. Expressing a personal view, he said “I hope that we will”.13 He told us that the SSAC would consider this at its meeting on 12 December 2018. He added that a “full discussion of the response and where we should go” would be on the agenda for that meeting.14 Asked how long this work might take, he responded:

It is incredibly important that we are not tardy in coming back with a response, but at the same time this is a pretty detailed response to a very detailed paper and it cannot be done in days, I would submit. I would like to do something that you would feel was a really strong piece of work.15

9.At the time of writing this report, we do not know exactly when the House will be asked to make a decision on the draft Regulations. The Minister told us on 18 October that “we just want to make sure that we get the regs through before the end of this year.”16 That timetable would not allow the House to have the benefit of the SSAC’s advice before reaching a decision.

10.We recognise that the original draft Regulations have been scrutinised in detail by the SSAC. We are also conscious of the impact of further delay on claimants. We asked the SSAC about the impact of waiting for the SSAC’s further report before the Regulations were debated in Parliament. Victoria Todd, a member of the SSAC, noted that there could be disadvantages for some claimants. She explained that “any delay in the roll-out of the managed migration means that more people will migrate naturally.”17 For most claimants (other than those in the Severe Disability Premium group), that would mean a loss of transitional protection. This risk must be balanced, however, against the risk of proceeding with a potentially flawed process that will be difficult to amend once the Regulations become law. Sir Ian Diamond told us:

I would have thought that there would be some advantage in terms of enabling a really clear dialogue to have taken place. At the moment we have a position where we have made a set of recommendations. There is a response. It seems to us that there is sense in having a conversation about some of those responses. The advantage is that you are then able to have a proper and full conversation, having seen the response to the response.

The disadvantage would be if nothing happened in terms of preparation while that was happening. I would hope that that would not happen. Therefore, I end up in a position where I would say the advantage outweighs the disadvantage.18

11.These Regulations will have a profound effect on the lives of millions of people, including some of the most vulnerable in society. It is impossible to overstate the importance of getting them right. Getting it wrong could plunge people further into poverty and could even leave them destitute. The Government must provide time for expert scrutiny of the revised Regulations laid on 5 November. We recommend that the Government should not ask the House to vote on the Regulations until the Social Security Advisory Committee has been able to report on them.

12.We recognise that a further short delay to the migration process will have an impact on the Department’s planned timetable for testing, which is currently due to start in July 2019. A longer delay could mean that some claimants lose their entitlement to transitional protection and is therefore to be avoided. Instead, we believe that a short delay to allow for proper scrutiny would be in the best interests both of claimants and of the Government, since it would allow for remaining concerns about the Regulations to be addressed before testing begins. We recommend that the Government continue its preparations for managed migration while the Social Security Advisory Committee carries out its work.

13.The Department is approaching another critical stage in the Universal Credit roll-out. Given the precarious circumstances of many of the people who will move via managed migration it is right that the focus of scrutiny is currently on the protections they will receive. But millions more claimants will move onto Universal Credit “naturally” and via new claims as Universal Credit beds in. Many will receive less, or no, protection. It is essential not to lose sight of or downplay the difficulties these people face. We will soon be looking at the impact of natural migration.

3 Letter from the Chair to Minister for Employment, 24 October

7 HC Deb 5 November, col. 1247–1249

9 Ibid., pp.13–14

10 Ibid., p.16

11 See Chapter 2

13 Q 936

14 Q 937

15 Q 937

16 Q 808

17 Q 955

18 Q 955

Published: 22 November 2018