The Department for Work and Pensions (the Department) is planning to transfer people to Universal Credit from the benefits it replaces from July 2019, through a process it calls “managed migration”.
In total, the Department expects to transfer three million people in two million households to Universal Credit through managed migration, including some of the most vulnerable people in society. This is a huge operational and logistical challenge, with significant risks. We remain of the view that we set out in our 2018 report on managed migration: it is impossible to overstate the importance of getting managed migration right.
The Department plans to pilot managed migration in just three months’ time, from July 2019, though it has not yet set out detailed plans, including how long the pilot will last. The Secretary of State announced in March that the pilot would begin in Harrogate. But Harrogate is an area with relatively low levels of deprivation. The Department must explain how it will take this into account when it evaluates the pilot, and say whether—and if so how—it plans to test managed migration in more challenging areas before it is rolled out across the country.
The Department will use the pilot to understand how different claimants respond to being moved to Universal Credit and to understand and define the role that support services will play in supporting claimants to migrate to Universal Credit. After the pilot, the Department will expand the process of managed migration across the rest of the UK until everyone claiming legacy benefits is moved over to Universal Credit. The Department calls this process “managed migration at scale” or “going to scale”.
There are two types of tests for readiness: operational tests for readiness which would assess if UC full service is working as it should for claimants before starting the managed migration pilot; and tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’ which would assess if the Department was ready to begin managed migration ‘at scale’ following the pilot.
Both the National Audit Office (NAO) and Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), an independent statutory body, recommended that the Department set basic operational tests for readiness before beginning the managed migration pilot. Much is at stake if managed migration is not successful, for Work Coaches, for public spending and for the lives of the people Universal Credit is supposed to be designed to support. The Department has not yet given any convincing reason why it is ignoring this advice from expert bodies.
So far, the Department has set “entry and exit” criteria for each stage of Universal Credit rollout. It has argued, however, that tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’ could only be defined during the pilot, given the need to retain flexibility and discretion in its plans for managed migration.
We accept that detailed tests of readiness to go to scale could only be finalised in light of the results of the pilot, but we are not convinced that the Department can begin the pilot without any provisional tests. This is for the simple reason that the Department, if it is going to set any tests of readiness to go to scale, must decide before it starts the pilot what data it needs to collect to set and apply these tests. If it sets the tests only after the data has been collected, it will be constrained in what tests it can choose—and at risk of creating the perception that it is fitting the tests to the results.
Given the need to rebuild trust in Universal Credit, transparent measures of readiness before proceeding to managed migration ‘at scale’ could offer reassurance both to claimants and to support services. Published tests of readiness are also needed to hold the Government to account at each stage of Universal Credit rollout. Without them, it is unclear how Parliament could be expected to make an informed decision about whether to grant the powers via regulations to allow the Department to expand managed migration after the pilot.
The Government should immediately adopt the tests of operational readiness proposed by SSAC and apply them before transferring a single claimant to UC via managed migration. The Department should ensure that it collects the data during the pilot it will need to define tests of readiness to go to scale. At a minimum, it should adopt the tests we propose in Annex 1 as provisional tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’ and refine them during the pilot, and report the results to Parliament.
Published: 1 May 2019