DWP announces trial site for Universal Credit managed migration pilot
Announcement comes as UC director say "roughly half" of Universal Credit claimants may have been transferred without transitional protection
Harrogate will be the first testbed for the so-called "managed migration" process of moving people claiming benefits under the ‘legacy’ welfare system onto Universal Credit, the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.
Up to 3,000 claimants in the North Yorkshire town will be in the first trial group to transfer onto the new system in the second phase of the rollout of the government’s flagship welfare reform.
Universal Credit, which will combine six existing benefits into one payment, has already been rolled out to new benefit claimants nationwide. More than 1.6 million people now claim the working-age benefit, according to DWP.
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In January, plans to roll out Universal Credit to existing benefit recipients en masse were abandoned when work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd scrapped a vote on the legislation needed to begin transferring claimants.
Instead, a six-month pilot scheme, which will begin in July once the relevant legislation has been passed, will be used to “inform [the] next steps” of the programme, Rudd said at the time.
In a statement yesterday, DWP said: “The goal of the pilot is to learn as much as possible about how to help people to move onto Universal Credit. We will increase numbers as slowly and gradually as necessary, expanding to further locations as required.”
Rudd has previously said DWP may take a phased approach to managed migration after the pilot. However, the department still maintains it will hit its deadline of moving all claimants onto the new system by the end of 2023.
In its announcement yesterday, DWP said Harrogate had been chosen for the pilot “after careful consideration because of a range of factors, including the local jobcentre’s significant experience of Universal Credit”.
The department added that extra support would be put in place in the city’s Jobcentre Plus including additional support for vulnerable claimants, such as home visits.
In a statement, Rudd said: “Moving people from the old and outdated benefits system to Universal Credit is a positive and important moment.” However, she added: “But the switch needs to be done carefully, which is why we are taking a step-by-step approach to this, starting in Harrogate.
"Dismay" over natural migration
The announcement came after it emerged that although managed migration has yet to officially begin, as many as 800,000 existing benefit claimants may have already been moved onto Universal Credit.
Appearing before the committee yesterday, UC director Neil Couling said “roughly half” of the 1.6 million people now claiming Universal Credit were people who had previously claimed legacy benefits.
Couling told the committee it was “hard to give a precise estimate” of how many Universal Credit claimants had been transferred this way. However, he estimated “about half of caseload growth is through a change in circumstance, and half is through a pure new claim to benefit”.
Asked about the figure, a DWP spokesperson said: "Only new claimants or people who have undergone a change of circumstance are currently being asked to apply for Universal Credit.
"When someone's circumstances change it's right that we reassess their entitlement to ensure they're receiving the right level of support."
Unlike people being transferred between systems under managed migration, people who are moved because their circumstances have changed do not receive any transitional payments to tide them over during the transfer.
Work and Pensions Select Committee chair Frank Field wrote to Rudd on 27 February to say the committee was “dismayed” about the financial impact this so-called “natural migration” was having on claimants.
“Our witnesses gave us stark evidence about the substantial financial losses that some legacy benefit claimants face when they experience a change in circumstance and move to Universal Credit through ‘natural migration’, without transitional protection,” he said.
Field also said the committee had received “extremely worrying evidence” that some jobcentres were moving claimants whose circumstances had not changed, and asked Rudd to confirm whether this was the case. At the time of going to press, Rudd’s response had not been published.
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