Chancellor George Osborne has created further confusion around the ever-moving Universal Credit completion deadline by saying that the new benefits system will be “fully available” across the UK by 2016.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has previously said that the national Universal Credit rollout will not be complete until an unspecified time after its original 2017 deadline.
“Based on current plans, Universal Credit will be fully available in each part of Great Britain during 2016,” according to the Budget document published last week.
However, the DWP has claimed that the earlier date of 2016 is not a slip of a tongue by Osborne or a sign thathte project was making sudden, unexpected progress, but rather a matter of “semantics”.
A spokesperson for the department said that the new Universal Credit system, which rolls six welfare benefits into one, “will be in every job centre” by 2016, but that not all claimants will be moved onto the system by then.
Rugby Council, one of the Universal Credit pilots, recently likened communications with DWP to "banging your head against a brick wall".
“The government continues to roll out the service in a controlled manner in order to assess how claimants are responding, and to inform development of the enhanced digital solution,” the government said in the Budget.
Bath and Harrogate were the most recent areas to go live with Universal Credit as part of the government’s “slow and controlled” rollout. It is also up and running in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Rugby, Hammersmith and Inverness.
Universal Credit aims to merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working credit. However, only individual jobseekers are currently able to use the system, with couples and families expected to be able to do so from the summer and autumn, respectively.