DWP insists universal credit plans are on track

The Department for Work and Pensions has insisted its plans for universal credit are on track - flying in the face of criticism from MPs.

The DWP on Tuesday published its response to a report from the Work and Pensions select committee published in November. The committee warned the government’s timetable for universal credit was ‘ambitious’ and more needs to be done to ensure vulnerable people’s needs are met.

Under universal credit, a number of benefits will be combined into one single monthly payment direct to households.

Payments will be administered by a large IT system which uses real-time tax and earnings information from HM Revenue & Customs, meaning benefit payments will be automatically updated as claimants’ circumstances change.

The DWP response said a pilot to test the real-time technology is ‘on track’ and there will be six million people on the system by next month. It added that there will be back-up provisions for tenants to ‘self-report’ if the technology fails.

However, it said: ‘If an established real-time information feed is in place, in the unlikely event the system fails to report for one assessment period, the award will be paid without requiring to self report.

‘Any adjustments to reflect a change in hours worked …would be corrected in future payments.’

The DWP also said it will provide support to help claimants budget but will not define ‘vulnerability’, despite calls from the select committee to do so.

‘Any attempt to do so would risk some people with complex needs falling outside of the prescribed definitions and then not receiving help they may genuinely need,’ the DWP said. Instead, guidance on ‘financial and vulnerability factors that would trigger a conversation with a claimant about their budgeting needs’ will be made available to support staff.

The DWP is looking into developing a smartphone application to help people access the internet and at data sharing protocols to enable councils and housing associations to more easily share benefit data.

The DWP responded to criticism that single payments to household could lead to women losing out, and money intended for children or rent being used for other purposes. The department said where needed split payments can be used.