Government's Universal Credit system begins

The government's new Universal Credit (UC) system has begun to be rolled-out today, in four North West towns.

The reformed benefit programme will be introduced in four jobcentres in parts of Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan and Warrington.

Ashton-under-Lyne's jobcentre will be the first to accept claims for UC, whilst Wigan, Warrington and Oldham jobcentres will trial the new claimant commitment and will take claims for UC beginning in July, informed by the early testing in Ashton.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that the "controlled approach will mean that Jobcentres intensively test the new system as it rolls out - ensuring that claimants are protected throughout".

UC will ultimately affect five million tax credit customers and 3.5 million housing benefit customers. It will replace Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

Last month it was revealed that 85% of benefit claimants are concerned about the introduction of the new system.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that UC will "make it easier for people to claim what they are entitled to, but more importantly it will make it easier for people to move off benefits and into work".

Duncan Smith added: "This government is on the side of people who want to work hard and get on. UC is nothing less than the start of a fundamental cultural shift of the welfare system. This will revolutionise the way people experience the welfare state.

"This is the first step on a long journey, and the pathfinder is our opportunity to get UC right. We will bring in this radical and vital reform in a careful and controlled way.

Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: "The start of UC today is a big step forward. We are finally implementing a benefit system that is fairer, where claimants will be better off in work than on benefits.

"We are introducing UC in a slow and safe manner so that we get this important reform right and help more people move smoothly from benefits and into work."

Claims for UC will have to be made online.

The rest of the country will see UC rolled-out from October, with completion due in 2017.