An interim report into the use of the new Universal Credit welfare system has found that 90 percent of people in the pilot claimed their benefits online.
The finding backs up a recent announcement from welfare minister Lord Freud, who said that “most people are claiming [Universal Credit] online”. The government is also considering a ‘mobile first’ strategy for delivery of the scheme, via smartphones and tablets.
“Universal Credit is bridging the digital gap, with 90 percent of people making their claims online. This is higher than the proportion of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance online under the current benefits system,” the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.
Previous government figures showed that 80 percent of JSA claimants claimed online. However, the 90 percent statistic is based on a survey of just 901 people claiming Universal Credit. The government is only rolling out the system - which aims to merge six benefits into one - for simple claims at first, from single jobseekers, which has led toMPs have labelling the DWP pilot scheme ‘inadequate’ and ‘limited’ in its scope.
Among the online claimants, 41 percent encountered some problems with their application. This comprised 13 percent reporting the website crashing, while 10 percent said it took too long. Nine percent said they found instructions on how to complete the application confusing, and another nine percent said they struggled to get some or all of the information required.
Despite these issues, 73 percent said they were able to complete their online application on the first go.
In addition, the evaluation report revealed that of the remaining 10 percent who did not apply online, seven percent of respondents made telephone claims and three percent made claims in person at a Jobcentre instead.
Of those who did not claim online, seven percent said they tried to claim online but gave up because of the problems they encountered. Two percent said they did not claim online because they did not have access to the internet or preferred to talk to someone face to face, while one percent said they did not know it was possible to claim online.
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. The interim report only covers claims from this region.
A recent National Audit Office report revealed that poor governance had stymied progress on the project, and that the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) had to write off £34 million of IT costs related to it. Despite this, the DWP has insisted that Universal Credit will be “on time and within budget”.