Universal Credit: tests for managed migration Contents

2The Department’s plans for managed migration

The Department’s plans for the pilot

10.The Department plans to run a managed migration pilot from July 2019 in Harrogate, to test moving claimants over from legacy benefits to Universal Credit. We consider the Department’s choice of pilot location below. Whilst the Department has not yet explained in detail how the pilot will operate, it will eventually involve moving to Universal Credit up to 10,000 people who are currently receiving legacy benefits. Claimants in the pilot will first receive ‘warm-up’ letters informing them that they will receive an official migration notice, over four to six months. Claimants then receive a migration notice telling them that they must make a new Universal Credit claim within three months—using essentially the same application process as new claimants or those subject to ‘natural’ migration. The Department will track each claimant from the issuing of a notice, and follow-up any claimants who may risk failing to claim successfully, with a home visit if necessary.8

11.Claimants who are subject to managed migration—both in the pilot phase and subsequently—whose circumstances have not changed will receive transitional protection. This means that if the claimant would receive less under UC than they currently receive on legacy benefits, they will get a ‘top up’ of their UC payment that ensures they do not experience a cash loss. Neil Couling told us in correspondence that an automated system for applying transitional protection will be ready to test in July 2019.9

12.Claimants subject to the managed migration pilot will also be eligible for discretionary hardship payments. The Department has said that these payments may be used in place of the run-ons of legacy benefits (a further two weeks of payment of legacy benefits once claimants have started their UC claim) which will be introduced in 2020:

The Department will introduce a Discretionary Hardship Payment to support those claimants who will be managed migrated as part of the pilot phase and who appear to be in hardship. The power for Discretionary Hardship Payments is broad and could be used to pay the equivalent of the two-week legacy run on to the 10,000 claimants who will be moved to Universal Credit as part of the piloting phase and who are in hardship on account of the absence of the run on. We will also have the discretion to make payments if any other issues related to managed migration have resulted in hardship.10

13.The Secretary of State outlined the Department’s plans for the pilot in a speech on 11 January 2019:

These next 6 months will be a period of careful preparation, working closely with claimants and partners—many of them who are in the room today—to design our communications and support systems effectively.

We want to ensure the process goes smoothly for claimants, so we will provide tailored communications, help with applications, and even home visits—with bespoke support for the most vulnerable claimants.

From July, we will carefully migrate up to 10,000 claimants, monitoring and adjusting our approach as needs be, before reporting our findings to Parliament.11

14.Neil Couling told us in correspondence that the Department does not intend during the pilot to use its powers to terminate legacy benefits where a claimant has not made a UC claim.12 This should mean in practice that no-one taking part in the pilot will be left without an income. In our 2018 report, we raised concerns that the Department’s plans meant that claimants would bear the risks associated with managed migration rather than the Department, so this decision is welcome.13

15.After widespread concerns, the Government has agreed to introduce a basic safeguard: in the pilot, a claimant will not be left without an income through having their legacy benefits terminated without having made a UC claim. But the Department cannot commit to paying legacy benefits forever. It will need to know how many claimants are at risk of dropping out of the process and therefore being left without an income when it begins to migrate all claimants to Universal Credit. We recommend that the Government collect and publish data on how many participants in the pilot would have been left with no income at all if this safeguard were not in place.

16.The Minister for Employment told us that the Department is using the pilot to understand how different claimants will respond to being migrated to Universal Credit. The Minister acknowledged that this will depend on individual circumstances—for example, if a claimant is vulnerable or has particular needs. It may also depend on the benefit they are migrating to UC from:

When we come to the test phase, which will be later next year, we will aim to test all claimant and benefit types to ensure we have an understanding of how different sets of claimants will react. The volumes will be very low and the testing will be on a small number of jobcentres […] and connected service centres, too.14

17.The pilot will be the Department’s main opportunity to understand and define the role that external support services will have to play in supporting claimants migrating to Universal Credit. Neil Couling told us:

I think people have read the regulations and not realised that, with the regulations, there are a bunch of processes and there is something about how we develop the wider environment that is supporting people here. For example, one of the things that I am exploring with some of the housing associations is that they know their tenants, so could they help in this process with the orientation and making sure that people know, when the letter comes, to start to engage with us and work it through, and support them along the way?15

18.After the pilot, the Department has said that it will make any necessary changes to the process before beginning managed migration ‘at scale’. The Department has yet to set out in detail how it plans to do so, including how long the pilot phase will last; however, the Department’s aim is that everyone currently claiming legacy benefits will be migrated to Universal Credit by December 2023.16

Pilot location

19.The Secretary of State told us in oral evidence that Harrogate was chosen as the location for the pilot because it includes both rural and urban claimants, and has had Universal Credit in place for three years:

We have chosen them because they have had Universal Credit for three years. They are an experienced Jobcentre. They are an area that has both urban and rural claimants, and we will be making sure that we have the opportunity to test and move as many as possible in an effective way so that we can learn and demonstrate the success of managed migration.17

20.The House of Commons Library estimates that in the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency 3,032 households are claiming Universal Credit and 3,240 households are still on legacy benefits or tax credits (as of November 2018). Universal Credit coverage in the constituency (the proportion of people claiming UC compared to the benefits UC replaces) is therefore around 48%: the highest proportion among constituencies in the Yorkshire and Humber region and the 8th highest in Great Britain as a whole.18 UC coverage is around 22% in Great Britain as a whole. 1,910 households in the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency are claiming Employment Support Allowance—and UC coverage for incapacity benefits (the proportion of claimants claiming UC compared to income-related ESA) is 25%, compared to 6% in Great Britain as a whole. The constituency also has relatively low levels of deprivation, as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation: it ranks as 490th for deprivation out of 533 Parliamentary constituencies in England, meaning only 43 English constituencies are less deprived.19

21.The Department has accepted that the low numbers involved in the pilot will mean that the sample will not be representative and told the SSAC that their aim was to find “as wide a range [of claimants] as possible in order to learn as much as possible”.20 The Comptroller and Auditor General has reflected that “it is important that pilots are representative of what will actually be implemented”.21

22.The caseload for managed migration will be very different from that for natural migration. For example, the Department estimates that 36% of claimants who will be moved to UC through managed migration will be ESA claimants, who are more likely to be living in vulnerable circumstances. The SSAC noted:

The Department has previously emphasised to us that Government policy is generally designed for the majority, rather than minority. However in the case of Universal Credit managed migration, the size of the ‘minority’ groups are substantial (both in percentage terms and actual numbers).22

23.We recognise that the Department has chosen Harrogate as the location for the pilot because it has advanced UC rollout and an experienced Jobcentre. But as an area with relatively low levels of deprivation, the circumstances of claimants in Harrogate will not be representative of the UK as a whole. The Department should take this into account when evaluating the pilot. We recommend that the Department set out in its response:

a)how it will take into account the unusually low levels of deprivation in Harrogate when evaluating the pilot, including the effect on typical claimant circumstances and on staff workloads;

b)whether, and if so how, it plans to test managed migration on a larger scale and in more challenging areas before it is rolled out across the country; and

c)how it will ensure that Jobcentres with a larger number of claimants to be migrated will be able to match the level of intensive support and home visits offered during the Harrogate pilot.

10 Work and Pensions Committee, Eighteenth Special Report of Session 2017–19, Universal Credit: managed migration: Government Response to the Committee’s Twentieth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 1901, para 28

11 “Universal Credit: personal welfare”, speech by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 11 January 2019

13 Work and Pensions Committee, Twentieth Report of Session 2017–19, Universal Credit: managed migration, HC 1762, para 23

16 Oral evidence taken on Monday 11 March 2019 (HC 1983), Q12

17 Oral evidence taken on Monday 11 March 2019 (HC 1983) Q3

18 House of Commons Library, Universal Credit dashboard

19 House of Commons Library, Deprivation in English constituencies, 2015, Briefing paper CBP-7327

Published: 1 May 2019