Sir Robert Devereux, the Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary who has led major government reforms including Universal Credit, has announced his retirement in January 2018.
Devereux has headed up the department since 2011, having previously served as permanent secretary in the Department for Transport from 2007.
He leaves government on his 61st birthday, having led DWP through the development, implementation and extended rollout just this month of Universal Credit – a system that brings together six existing employment benefits into one payment system.
It has been heavily criticised for the lag in payment times for claimants transitioning to the new system.
Devereux told Civil Service World last year that his career highlight for 2016 was achieving “more milestones on the government’s programme of welfare reform”.
“This year we finished rolling out Universal Credit for single unemployed claimants to every Jobcentre in Great Britain, with further evidence this flagship reform helps more people into work more quickly,” he said.
As well as overseeing this flagship benefits programme, Devereux helped introduce other big reforms to welfare and pensions, such as the new state pension, automatic enrolment into a workplace pension, the new child maintenance service and the personal independence payment.
According to the announcement these reforms coincide with a record employment rate of 75.3% and the lowest level of unemployment since 1975, 608,000 fewer children living in workless households since 2010 and a rise in the proportion of people saving for retirement.
DWP has 50,000 fewer staff than when Devereux took the helm in 2011, while operating costs are £2.9bn a year lower.
Announcing his retirement, he said: “I am very proud of all that my 84,000 colleagues in DWP have achieved. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to lead them.
“While reforming nearly every part of the welfare state, they have radically improved our customer service and worked relentlessly to improve the lives of the millions of people we serve.”
He joined the civil service in 1979 at the Overseas Development Administration, and has since worked for HM Treasury and the Department of Social Security, as well as taking a secondment with Guinness Brewing Worldwide.
He also headed up the policy profession between 2009 and 2012.
David Gauke, secretary of state for work and pensions, thanked Devereux for his leadership and commitment.
“He has been instrumental in steering DWP through a period of great change – including the rollout and expansion of Universal Credit throughout the country – and he leaves the department in good shape for the future,” he added.
Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood also praised Devereux for leading the department through “some of the biggest reforms in recent years”.
He said: “Thanks to his hard work and dedication, DWP has become significantly more effective over the last seven years.
“I am grateful to Robert for the role he has played across government and I have valued his wise counsel and support over the years. I wish him the very best for his retirement.”
Arrangements for a successor will shortly be announced by the Cabinet Office.