Five jobcentres have started offering Universal Credit to couples as well as single people, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Existing pilot sites in Hammersmith, Bath, Inverness, Harrogate and Rugby are now taking new claims from couples in addition to single individuals.
Universal Credit is also available from five further jobcentres in the north west of England as of this week: Southport, Crosby, Bootle, Bolton and Farnworth.
In February this year welfare reform minister Lord Freud said that Universal Credit is being introduced “in a slow, safe and controlled way”, with five jobcentres offering the new benefit at the time.
Five months on, the benefit is only available at 19 jobcentres across the entire country out of a total of roughly 750, and the latest DWP statistics show that just 6,550 people have claimed Universal Credit so far, out of the 5.4 million who are eventually expected to claim the new benefit.
It is only available to newly-unemployed claimants, who account for just one of the six benefit payments Universal Credit is eventually supposed to replace.
The project, which aims to merge six benefits into a single monthly household payment, has been troubled from its inception, with hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on unusable IT.
The benefit was due to launch nationally in October 2013 but is now unlikely to be available nationally before 2017, according to the DWP. The project was ‘reset’ last year, with a ‘digital solution’ being developed to replace the existing systems, although few details have been released about this work.
The remaining 14 jobcentres in the north west of England and Wales which already offer the new benefit will expand it to couples this summer, the DWP said.
As well as being available to couples who are both out of work, people may eventually be able to claim Universal Credit if one or both partners is in work and their combined take home pay is below £525 per month, the department explained.
The DWP recently said that it expects Universal Credit to be available in every jobcentre in the north west of England by the end of 2014.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We will be bringing on new job centres every week in a phased way. We haven’t set a date when this [north west expansion] will be fully live, but we expect the process will last up until the end of the year.”
Last week ComputerworldUK revealed that the National Audit Office is shortly due to start examining Universal Credit with a view to publishing a report by the end of the year.
The announcement follows news that the Labour party has said it will ‘pause’ the introduction of Universal Credit if elected in the 2015 general election.