Universal Credit creeps into North West

Universal Credit is due to be expanded to four job centres in the north west from Monday according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

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Universal Credit is due to be expanded to four job centres in the north west from Monday according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The new benefit will be available in jobcentres in Hyde, Stalybridge, Stretford and Altrincham as of next week.

Universal Credit, which aims to merge six benefits into a single payment, is currently only available in 10 jobcentres- four of which are located in the north west region- to single individuals who have never claimed benefits before.

However the DWP aims for it to be available in every jobcentre in the north west by the end of this year.

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.”

According to the DWP’s latest figures, 6,550 people had claimed Universal Credit as of March, up from 3,610 as of November last year. Roughly 5.4 million people are eventually expected to claim the new benefit.

The benefit was originally due to launch nationally in October last year, but Universal Credit has been beset by problems right from the start, with millions of pounds wasted on unworkable IT.

The project was ‘reset’ last year, with a ‘digital solution’ now being developed to replace the existing systems, but the DWP is yet to set out what this solution looks like or whether it is being used by claimants yet.

In its latest review of major government programmes, the Major Projects Authority ducked out of giving Universal Credit a rating. The MPA said that following the shift to a more ‘test and learn’ approach last year, development plans, the project’s whole life costs and even the business case are yet to be updated.

The project is in such trouble that it could be scrapped, although this is unlikely to happen before next year’s general election. Labour is yet to confirm its intentions for the project should the party form a government next year.