From today couples with children and lone parents will be able eligible to claim the new benefit, which merges six benefits into a single monthly payment.
However Universal Credit will only be available to families in six jobcentres, with the rest going live ‘early next year’, the DWP admitted.
Universal Credit was originally supposed to be launched nationally for new claimants in October 2013. However the project has been beset by problems from its launch, with millions of pounds wasted on unworkable IT.
The scheme is now on its seventh boss in just two years and the department has admitted that it may be as late as 2019 before all benefit claimants are receiving Universal Credit. Last month, the government said the deadline for the rollout was 2020.
In a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation aired last month, a jobcentre employee claimed the IT system for Universal Credit is “completely unworkable, badly designed” and already “out of date”.
The whistleblower claimed that the IT is unable to handle complicated cases and so they have to be done manually. However the DWP insisted that there was “absolutely no evidence that cases cannot be dealt with”.
The benefit is currently available in 79 out of 740 jobcentres, equivalent to about one in 10. However just 17,850 people are currently claiming it.
Some 36,000 people have signed up to claim Universal Credit so far, though about half have since stopped receiving the benefit thanks to finding employment or increasing their hours.
Today the DWP said one in three jobcentres will be able to accept claims for Universal Credit by ‘spring 2015’. However the department did not say how many people it expects to be claiming the new benefit by that point.
The DWP is working on two systems for Universal Credit simultaneously – one that underpins the current rollout to pilot sites, and an ‘end-state’ digital solution which will replace the original system in 2017.
The enhanced digital service is due to start being tested in a limited postcode area in Sutton by the end of this year, according to the DWP. It will test the full scope of Universal Credit for all claimant types.
The National Audit Office has conducted a follow-up study into Universal Credit, due to be published this month.
It released a damning report into the early progress of the project last September, which revealed losses of at least £34 million, weak management and poor implementation.
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