Public Services > Central Government

DWP rejects charity's Universal Credit pause calls

Neil Merrett Published 10 July 2017

Citizens Advice urges a halt on expansion of benefit reforms to address user ID concerns; DWP claims alternatives in place for minority unable to use GOV.UK Verify

 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has rejected calls from the Citizens Advice charity to pause the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) over concerns about its reliance on GOV.UK Verify, arguing alternatives are in place for those unable to use Whitehall’s identity assurance platform.

A report from the organisation has argued that the DWP should halt further expansion of UC - intended to be merge together a number of benefits such as employment and support allowance and income support – until a number of service delivery issues it has raised are addressed.

“Citizens Advice supports the principles of UC.  However, we are concerned they are being undermined.  We have already called for changes made to the treatment of earnings under UC to be reversed to ensure people on a low wage get the most from their income,” said the report.  “Yet our evidence suggests that problems with delivery and administration are also crucial.  With rollout due to accelerate significantly from October 2017 (increasing from five to 50 jobcentres moving to the full version of UC each month), identifying and tackling the types of delivery issues new claimants are experiencing now is crucial to avoid problems becoming widespread.”

Citizens Advice noted that with an estimated seven million households expected to receive Universal Credit going forward, the required overhaul of IT, administration and policy changes is placing huge demands on DWP, jobcentre staff and claimants.

A particular concern noted in the report was how some users were facing difficulties in being able to verify their identity online to register for Universal Credit, creating complications to claim housing or childcare support such as delay or potential underpayment.

“To apply for UC, claimants must first create a Verify account online, which proves their identity. While this account is useful for accessing a range of government services it can create challenges for those claiming UC,” said the findings. “In certain cases this will be difficulty accessing or providing items such as a passport, driving license or payslip at short notice, for others it will be the need to support evidence on an online platform.”

Among recommendations included in the report to address the ongoing problems is a call to provide consistent information from work coaches and the DWP about required evidence to apply for services.   Citizens Advice also called for improved clarity in informing claimants that they can supply identity evidence to a work coach at a job centre as an alternative to using the online Verify service.

Responding to the report, DWP said that it was working closely with the Government Digital Service (GDS) on adopting Verify to ensure it can provide an “effective and secure means to confirm someone’s identity.”

With the platform being used to provide ID assurance to support first time claims for the full Universal Credit service, the department expects that a majority of claimants will use the technology.

Based on the government’s own performance figures for the platform, the service completion rate, defined as the proportion of visits to GOV.UK Verify that result in successful user sign-in or account creation, has ranged between 39% and 40% over the last month.  The highest performing service currently using GOV.UK Verify currently posts a completion rate of 78%.

However, DWP noted that in a "minority" of cases where UC claimants were unable to use Verify to confirm identity alternative arrangements did exist.

On a broader level, the department argued that Citizens Advice had themselves noted that their report was based on evidence from a “self-selecting” group of people that did not represent more than half a million people claiming Universal Credit.  The department dismissed calls for a pause as it continues to develop a digital solution to handle the welfare reform programme.

“The best way to help people pay their rent and improve their lives is to help them into work, and under Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. Universal Credit is designed to mirror the way many people in work are paid, and we have budgeting advice and benefit advances available for anyone who needs extra help,” said the department.

 “The vast majority of claimants have told us they are satisfied with UC. We are rolling out Universal Credit in a gradual, safe and secure way, and in the rare cases where issues arise, we work closely with local authorities and landlords to support people when they need it.”

Programme “reset”

Viewed as one of the largest and most complex public sector transformation projects being undertaken in the European public sector, Universal Credit has faced a barrage of criticism over its management dating back to the former coalition government that devised the project.

Although regarded to be under a more stable footing in recent years, concerns have been raised by the National Audit Office (NAO) and parliament’s Public Accounts Committee over the significant costs of ongoing delays.

After deciding to "reset" the programme back in 2013, the DWP committed to a 'twin-track' strategy plan where it would develop a new digital Universal Credit service at the same time as undertaking a national rollout of existing technologies designed for the programme. 

In a series of ongoing delays to the benefits reform programme, the full Universal Credit project, including the introduction of a new digital service to manage accounts, will not be in place until at least 2022.

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