UK government kicks-off Universal Credit roll out

The government's troubled Universal Credit welfare scheme is now being rolled out nationally.

The IT system, designed to merge six separate benefits into one payment, will be implemented in 150 job centres in the next two months under an accelerated delivery programme.

The new timetable, announced by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith last September, aims to introduce Universal Credit to all 700 job centres by February 2016.

Duncan Smith said: "This landmark event is a key part of our long-term economic plan, which guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits.

"The evidence today shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.

"It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people's lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation."

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims after four months of receiving Universal Credit, people will be 13 per cent more likely to be in work than those on Jobseeker's Allowance, citing research conducted in four job centres.

The new roll out approach is a twin-track strategy where the DWP will continue to overhaul Universal Credit's flawed digital service while rolling out a live IT system.

This follows the DWP scrapping 34 million spent on developing the technology behind the digital service in May 2013.

The DWP aims to test the new digital service in summer 2015, and test its scalability in November 2016, eventually replacing the current live IT system as well as legacy benefit schemes in December 2017.

But the National Audit Office bemoaned the lack of a backup plan in a report published last November, warning that if the digital service proves unfeasible, using the current live service systems instead of digital systems would cost 2.8 billion more in staff expenses.

Additionally, the current roll out will not serve all benefit claimants, with only those based in Sutton currently testing the digital service's full functionality.

Single people whose benefits are among the simplest to process will be the main beneficiaries of the current roll out, but the DWP plans to expand the types of claimants able to use the service as time goes on.