The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that Universal Credit is now live in Shotton, Wales.
It is the first site in Wales to be connected, and the 10th to go live with the system overall. Universal Credit, a major project that aims to merge six benefits into one, is so far running in Greater Manchester and the Cheshire area, Hammersmith, Inverness, Rugby, Bath and Harrogate.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud reiterated that Universal Credit is being deliberately rolled out slowly.
“We are bringing in Universal Credit in a slow, safe and controlled way,” he said. “This careful approach is working well and we’re in a strong position as we continue to introduce it across the country.”
The rollout is continuing despite reports that the system could be scaled back or scrapped after the next general election if it does not deliver results.
Furthermore, ministers insist that the technology behind Universal Credit is functioning, in spite of the IT problems encountered since its inception, which led to millions of pounds of assets being written off.
Lord Freud made no reference to the recent developments around Universal Credit, which saw DWP tender for services from the government’s digital services framework contract to help the department develop a private beta version of UC, followed by a public beta.
DWP had been working with the Government Digital Services (GDS) team on developing a digital Universal Credit system, but it was revealed in January that GDS was backing away from the project, and taking its digital savvy IT team with it.
The department has, as a result, been forced to draw on the digital services framework and to hire more people with the necessary digital expertise to work on the Universal Credit transformation project.
Universal Credit was initially introduced from April 2013 in certain areas of the North West, known as Pathfinder sites. These included Ashton-under-Lyne Jobcentre, which started to accept Universal Credit claims from 29 April, Wigan, which started to accept claims from 1 July, followed by Warrington and Oldham on 29 July.
Rugby, which went live with the system in November 2013, recently revealed how in addition to the IT, top-down communication was a problem for Universal Credit.
The council likened its efforts to communicate with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to “banging your head against a brick wall.”
Chancellor George Osborne recently created further confusion around the ever-moving UC completion date by saying that the new system would be “fully available” across the UK by 2016 in his latest Budget document.
DWP has previously said that the national Universal Credit rollout will not be complete until an unspecified time after its original 2017 deadline.