Department for Work and Pensions “evasive” over Universal Credit delays, says Public Accounts Committee

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 3 February 2016 in News
News

MPs say they are “disappointed” by lack of clarity over progress on welfare reforms

The Department for Work and Pensions should publish a set of clear milestones for the roll-out of Universal Credit, including plans for different claimant groups and local authorities, according to a Public Accounts Committee report published today.

The report acknowledged that Universal Credit - which aims to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single payment - has "stabilised and made progress” since the committee first reported on it in 2013. But the committee is critical of continued delays and a lack of transparency over progress milestones.


Related articles
Has the reset saved Universal Credit?
"DWP has had a sharp focus on doing things once and doing them right"- permanent secretary Robert Devereux reviews 2015 and looks to 2016
Top tech trends for 2016: How will they affect government?


DWP told MPs that it was on track to meet four of the five milestones it has published, including beginning the roll out of a new digital service in May 2016 and migrating existing welfare claimants by 2019.

The new digital service, however, is now due to complete six months later than when PAC looked at the programme a year ago, and this delay will push back “the date when existing claimants can start to be moved onto Universal Credit and reduces the number of Universal Credit claimants at the end of 2019,” says the report.

The committee says it is “disappointed by the persistent lack of clarity and evasive responses by the department to our inquiries, particularly about the extent and the impact of delays”.

The lack of “clear and specific milestones creates uncertainty for claimants, advisers, and local authorities” says the report, as well as making it difficult for parliament and the public to hold officials to account for progress.

Evaluation of Universal Credit, although “extensive”, has a narrow scope, says the report, so “impacts on claimants remain very uncertain”.

The PAC report comes as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) publishes an analysis stating that Universal Credit will cut the welfare bill by £2.7bn per year in the long term. But the report says that 2.1m working households will get less in benefits when Universal Credit is introduced, while 1.8m households will get more.

Robert Joyce, an associate director at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “The long run effect of Universal Credit will be to reduce benefits for working families on average – a reversal of the original intention.

“However, the potential gains from simplifying the working-age benefit system remain mostly intact: Universal Credit should make the system easier to understand, ease transitions into and out of work, and largely get rid of the most extreme disincentives to work or to earn more created by the current system.”

The PAC report also noted that DWP has not updated the business case for Universal Credit to take account of the tax credit changes announced in the chancellors Autumn Statement last November.

These changes will mean that the cost of transitional protection for people currently claiming tax credits increase by up to £150m each year, according to the Treasury, but DWP “could not clearly explain who would be covered by the transitional protection arrangements.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Universal Credit will make work pay and increase financial incentives for people to work more, while also bringing the welfare bill under control."

The spokesman added: "Universal Credit also includes a wide range of additional benefits - including increased childcare and more support from a dedicated work coach both things that were ignored in the IFS's analysis."

About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is Civil Service World's senior reporter. She tweets as @SuzannahCSW

Share this page

Further reading in our policy hubs

Add new comment

Contact the author

The contact details for the Civil Service World editorial team are available on our About Us page.

Related Articles

Related Sponsored Articles

The Charity for Civil Servants: How we’re supporting officials with money troubles
23 January 2017

One in four workers in the UK has financial worries. In this article, Elaine Jefferys, Money...

BYOD: The critical balancing act
3 April 2014

How can organisations allow employees to use their own devices to access corporate information...

A radical re-think for public sector transformation
2 November 2015

With the ‘low-hanging fruit’ exhausted, the public sector must approach new government saving...

Mind the Gap
3 April 2014

Given the rhetoric surrounding the shift to the modern workplace and the importance of centring...