Universal Credit: tests for managed migration Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction

1.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. It is a huge operational and logistical challenge, with significant risks for Jobcentre Plus staff, for public spending and for the people most affected by the change: claimants. Without clear tests and measures to prove that it is ready to move claimants to Universal Credit, the Government will struggle to win the trust of claimants, support organisations, Parliament and the wider public—something it acknowledges will be vital for managed migration to be a success. (Paragraph 9)

The Department’s plans for managed migration

2.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. (Paragraph 15)

3.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. (Paragraph 23)

Tests of readiness

4.The Department has not provided any convincing reason why it has not accepted the recommendations from expert bodies to set and apply operational tests of readiness before beginning the managed migration pilot. Given that these tests would be separate from tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’, we do not accept the Department’s argument that the NAO and SSAC’s recommendations have any “less resonance” than when they were first framed. If the Department is confident that UC is operationally ready to begin the managed migration pilot, we cannot understand why it will not set tests to demonstrate this. The Department should immediately set tests of operational readiness based on those proposed by the SSAC and ensure that these tests are met before a single claimant is transferred through managed migration. The Department should publish the results of the tests. (Paragraph 37)

5.The Government will find it easier to justify its decisions as it proceeds with UC rollout if it commits to transparent, objective tests at each stage. Given the need to rebuild trust in Universal Credit, transparent tests of readiness before proceeding to managed migration ‘at scale’ could offer reassurance both to claimants and to support services. Tests of readiness will also indicate to the Department at an early stage if its timescales for full migration to Universal Credit are realistic. (Paragraph 41)

6.We accept that any tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’, and the threshold levels which would indicate readiness, will need to be refined in light of the results from the managed migration pilot. We are not convinced, however, that the Department can begin the pilot without any provisional view at all on the tests of readiness to ‘go to scale’, for the simple reason that the Department must decide in advance what data it will collect during the pilot. (Paragraph 42)

7.Published tests of readiness are needed to hold the Government to account at each stage of Universal Credit rollout. Without them, it is unclear how the House could be expected to make an informed decision about whether to grant the powers needed to begin managed migration at scale. If the tests are set only following the pilot, the Government would risk the perception that it is setting the tests only once it knows what the results will be. (Paragraph 44)

Conclusion

8.Three sets of tests of readiness for managed migration are needed. Operational tests of readiness are necessary before starting the pilot to make sure that UC is operating as it should for claimants. Provisional tests of readiness for managed migration are necessary to make sure that the Department collect the data they need during the pilot. And final tests of readiness for managed migration are necessary to know if the Department is ready to begin managed migration at scale. (Paragraph 45)

9.The Department should adopt, as a minimum, the tests we outline in Annex 1 as provisional tests of readiness for managed migration ‘at scale’ and collect the data necessary to do so. These tests cover payment timeliness, Work Coach/case manager performance, systems performance, the cost per UC claim, claimant satisfaction, claimant financial duress, claimant dropout, indicators relating to vulnerable claimants and the financial impact on third parties. The tests, and the specific thresholds that would indicate readiness, should be refined during the pilot. The Department should publish both the provisional and final tests and report the results to Parliament. (Paragraph 46)





Published: 1 May 2019