Bath and Harrogate have gone live with Universal Credit as part of the government’s “slow and controlled” rollout of the new welfare system.
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.
So far, Universal Credit is up and running in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Rugby, Hammersmith and Inverness.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: “We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow, safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we’re in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Bath and Harrogate for the first time.”
The rollout is continuing despite reports that the system could be scaled back or scrapped after the next general election if it does not deliver results.
Furthermore, ministers insist that the technology behind Universal Credit is functioning, in spite of the IT problems encountered since its inception, which led to millions of pounds of assets being written off.
“Most people are claiming it online, the IT is working and comprehensive support is in place,” Lord Freud said.
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.
Rugby, which went live with the system in November 2013, recently revealed how in addition to teh IT, top-down communication was a problem for Universal Credit.
The council likened its efforts to communicate with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to “banging your head against a brick wall.”