Achieving the new Universal Credit scheme is appearing more complicated than it first seemed, but Downing Street dismiss calls to delay it.
The universal credit will replace job seeker’s allowance, tax credits, income support, employment and support allowance, and housing benefits, and is intended to simplify benefits with one simple payment allowing claimants to keep more of their benefits when taking paid work. The process will be internet based, where most claimants apply and report changes to their circumstances online.
However, recent debate suggests that achieving this simplicity is proving ferociously complex.
Seventy organisations representing councils, charities, trades unions, businesses and housing groups have submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, with concerns about the effect of changing the payments to monthly, concerns with the IT system, and whether the expected start date of October 2013 could not be pushed back.
The Downing Street spokesman said “it’s on track to be implemented in that timetable.” Iain Duncan Smith told members of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee he was confident that the target of 50% of benefit claims being made online by 2013 could be met.
Three key problems facing the Universal Credit scheme were addressed yesterday:
1. Regarding the problem about change from weekly payments to monthly, he insisted that paying benefits weekly or fortnightly made it harder for people who find jobs to adjust to the world at work now that the majority of employers pay monthly.
2. When speaking about the worry of the IT system not being ready, IDS said he has sought advice from major internet retailers such as Amazon about how to keep his Universal Credit systems running, despite electronic sabotage and fraud, which he believes will be one of the biggest challenges for the system, and Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister said that the getting the security system working properly will be one of the biggest challenge; however the pilot has been tested and runs smoothly. Private security companies will be commissioned to develop a system of “identity assurance” to check that only real claimants can get benefits.
3. Another common query is that the need to get claimants to go online will disadvantage and exclude any who cannot or do not want to use the internet, and those who cannot access the internet easily. The Government’s target is that 50 per cent of claims will be made online by 2013. However, Duncan Smith has insisted that 30% of claimants are already “willing and able” to use the web, and another 33% are “willing” but “require some support”. That left over a third who are either “not literate” in the use of computers or “resistant” but trust relatives, or social services staff to access the system for them.
A spokesman said the project, being pushed through by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, was a vital part of the welfare reform and maintained that it is still on track to go ahead as planned, piloting in April 2013 and set to come into effect gradually from October 2013.