The government's Universal Credit scheme has fallen five years behind schedule, with ministers announcing the seventh delay since 2013 yesterday. Initially, Universal Credit was to be complete by 2017, but this has now been pushed back to 2022.
The troubled benefits reform project began a national roll-out last year, under the guidance of former work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith - who has since been replaced by Damian Green. Currently, Universal Credit only affects newly unemployed people living within particular areas of England.
The scheme has had a difficult start. It was paused and relaunched with new management in 2013, who promised to keep the existing (allegedly
unworkable) IT systems but develop a new digital solution to eventually replace them.
Since then a
new boss has taken over, a trial of the new solution started, it has emerged millions of pounds will be written off and a new completion date of 2022 has been set, five years behind its original finish date of 2017.
We take a look at the biggest milestones for the project over the last two years.
1. July 2016: Universal Credit comes under scrutiny after five year delay
© Morgan Studio
Ministers from the work and pensions department have announced further delays to the Universal Credit scheme. The original date of completion was set for 2017 with the new finish date of 2022 now agreed.
This will be seventh delay to the Universal Credit scheme since 2013.
In a recent written statement , the new secretary of state for work and pensions, Damien Green said: "For the first time since Universal Credit was announced in 2010, we will put specific contingency into the plan from September 2018 until June 2019. The managed migration of existing benefit claims will start in July 2019 and complete in March 2022."
2. July 2016: Universal Credit is rolled out to new jobseekers
In the same
written statement, Damien Green claimed the recent rescheduling was a strategic move ' to make sure that the delivery continues to be safe and controlled'.
Green said: "Universal Credit has been successfully rolled out across the country to new single jobseekers and is now available in all jobcentres. Over a quarter of a million people are now receiving Universal Credit, with around 12,500 new claims every week."
And while a quarter of a million people are stated as receiving Universal Credit, this misses the original target of 6 million by an incredible
3. July 2016: Lord David Freud commissions review of Universal Credit arrears
© Department of Work and Pensions
Welfare reform minister Lord David Freud wants to investigate the high rate of rent arrears owed by Universal Credit claimants.
On the 13 July, in the House of Lords, Lord Freud was asked how the conservative party
will address the reasons for the increase in the number of Universal Credit recipients and council tenants rent arrears. Lord Freud responded stating: "The reality is that there are a lot of factors at play and universal credit is not the sole issue. Many people are coming into universal credit with pre-existing arrears. Safeguards are in place for claimants, including advances, budgeting support and alternative payment arrangement. Research shows that over time claimants successfully reduce their arrears. I have commissioned work from the department to help understand the true level and causes of these arrears."
4. September 2015: Universal Credit digital solution now on trial in three locations
© Flickr/Elliott Brown
The pilot of the digital service for Universal Credit was expanded to jobcentres in London Bridge in September 2015. It is also being trialled in the London boroughs of Croydon and Sutton. The service is being developed to eventually replace existing error-prone systems. As of 5 October, Universal Credit is available in just over half of all job centres (however using the systems which will eventually be scrapped and replaced by the digital service).
5. July 2015: Universal Credit staff vote to go on strike
© Flickr/Roger Blackwell
Staff at two
Universal Credit centres voted by 84 percent to go on a two-day strike over inadequate IT systems and what they describe as an “increasingly oppressive working environment”. Their demands, which they discussed with the Department for Work and Pensions on 9 July, included “proper investment in IT and training”, an end to the “excessive target culture” and a “fundamental rethink of the new ways of working”.
6. June 2015: Successful delivery of Universal Credit 'in doubt', Major Projects Authority warns
Whitehall watchdog the Major Projects Authority highlighted major problems with Universal Credit in its latest annual report
published in June. The programme got an amber/red rating, signifying successful delivery is 'in doubt', the project has 'major risks or issues' in a number of key areas and it needs 'urgent action' to address them. This was despite the fact Universal Credit was judged to have been ‘reset’ only last year, after it received the same amber/red rating in 2013.
7. May 2015: Iain Duncan Smith reappointed work and pensions minister
© Flickr/UK in Spain
After the Conservatives won an overall majority in May's general election, David Cameron reappointed Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary "to finish the job he started".
8. April 2015: Just one percent of benefit claimants receiving Universal Credit
© Flickr/Regional Cabinet
Just one percent of benefit claimants are currently claiming Universal Credit, according to official government statistics. 52,630 out of a total of 5.4 million of working-age claimants were receiving the new benefit as of 12 March.
9. February 2015: New digital solution already six months late
© Flickr/Policy Exchange
new digital solution for Universal Credit is already six months behind schedule, just 22 months after it started being developed, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge MP (pictured).
10. February 2015: Universal Credit starts to roll out nationally
The Department for Work and Pensions has promised it will be available in 500 out of a total of 750 jobcentres by the end of this year, up from 96 now. However, in most jobcentres it will only be available for single, first-time claimants. At this point just 31,000 people are currently claiming it, out of a total of about 5.4 million working-age benefit claimants.
11. January 2015: Digital staff up from three to 160
© Flickr/Government Digital Service/Paul Clarke
The DWP has rapidly increased the number of people working on the new ‘digital’ system this year. There are now 160 DWP staff dedicated to it, up from three just a year ago. The department hopes to recruit 50 more by April.
12. End of 2014: Universal Credit available in one out of eight jobcentres
© iStock/Ed Stock
The government was keen to trumpet the fact Universal Credit had reached one out of eight jobcentres at the end of last year. That figure has not changed in the last two months. However, the DWP insists it will increase rapidly over the coming year.
13. December 2014: HM Treasury admits to £663 million write off
Blink and you’d have missed it, but senior HM Treasury official Sharon White (pictured) warned the government may have to write off a staggering £663 million on Universal Credit IT during a committee hearing last December.
The losses are a result of the
‘twin track’ development model, with existing systems for national implementation due to be eventually junked and replaced with a new digital solution, which is currently being trialled on a small scale.
14. November 2014: DWP launches trial of the new digital system
A pilot of the digital solution launched in Sutton at the end of November 2014. It is only available to new single claimants in the town in south-west London, which has a population just over 40,000.
The DWP will review the trial in six months and start preparing it for large-scale deployment. It’s early days but the Government Digital Service, which helped to develop the new system, says it is cheaper, more flexible and easier to use.
15. November 2014: NAO warns existing IT not up to scratch
The National Audit Office (NAO) published a report in November which said existing Universal Credit systems “depend heavily on manual intervention and will only handle a small number of claims”. It also warned another six-month delay to the new digital solution could cost £2.3 billion in “lost societal benefits”.
It was a rather muted follow-up to its damning report in September 2013, which said the project had been badly managed, was set to waste millions and IT systems had failed to deliver promised functionality.
16. October 2014: Claims the IT is unworkable aired on Channel 4
A jobcentre employee claimed the IT system for Universal Credit is “completely unworkable, badly designed” and already “out of date” during a Channel 4 Dispatches programme last October.
The whistleblower said the existing IT is unable to handle complicated cases, so they have to be done manually, a process that he described as “slow and easy to get wrong”.
17. September 2014: Universal Credit gets its seventh boss
Neil Couling took over leadership of Universal Credit in September, becoming the seventh person in charge of the project in just two years. Couling has worked at the DWP for his entire life in various roles, most recently as working age benefits director.
He replaced Howard Shiplee, who took charge of the project in May 2013 after a career in construction which included helping to deliver the 2012 London Olympics.
18. June 2014: Labour to review Universal Credit if it wins the next election
After years of speculation, in June 2014 the Labour party finally revealed if it wins the general election in May, it will pause development of Universal Credit for three months. That time will be used to allow the NAO to produce a report and a cost-benefit analysis of the scheme, which will help Labour to decide whether to keep it or scrap it.
19. May 2014: Major projects watchdog ducks out of rating Universal Credit
The Major Projects Authority, which rates major government projects by their chance of success or failure every year, did not give Universal Credit in its latest report.
The MPA said its decision reflected the fact the project had been ‘reset’ and did not have an updated business case or budget. The Public Accounts Committee strongly criticised the authority, saying it had failed to rate the project to try to hide information and avoid scrutiny.