Timetable for Universal Credit under question
Report suggests government may be ready to delay second phase of flagship welfare reform
The government may be prepared to delay the introduction of its flagship Universal Credit system for political or operational reasons.
According to the Financial Times, the delays are being considered because the changes may require more thorough testing before the system is extended to cater for all benefit claimants.
Under the Universal Credit system, six benefits are intended to be incorporated into a single payment, with the system due to move into its opening phase next October.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has consistently maintained that the October rollout is still on track. However, a number of key people involved in the project have left or are leaving their posts.
Steve Dover's role as corporate director of the Universal Credit programme business is now being taken up by head of service delivery Janice Hartley and by Sue Moore, the head of fraud and error strategy. The two report to Hilary Reynolds as programme director, who has taken over from Malcolm Whitehouse who has also left his role. Another member of the DWP executive team, chief operating officer Terry Moran, is believed to be on sick leave.
The DWP has insisted the staff changes are as a result of the programme moving from system design to delivery.
The project has consistently been dogged by fears that the systems required to implement Universal Credit may not work, leaving the project at risk of becoming another chapter in the history of delayed or cost-ballooning government IT projects.
Although, the FT reports, there is growing confidence in Whitehall that the October 2013 deadline for the opening phase of moving new claimants on to the system will be met, it may be necessary to delay the start of the second phase due in April 2014 with an election on the horizon.
However, a DWP spokesperson said:
"The timeline for bringing existing benefit claimants on to universal credit remains unchanged and we will roll out a pathfinder of the new benefit in April next year."