The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has pledged to go “slow, slow, slow, slow” when it finally begins to transfer the remaining group of claimants receiving “legacy” benefits onto universal credit over the next three years.
Neil Couling, DWP’s director general responsible for universal credit, suggested to MPs yesterday (Wednesday) that the so-called “managed migration” process would see only small numbers of claimants moved onto universal credit during 2022.
He said that his previous experience with the much-delayed rollout of universal credit showed that it was crucial to test each stage “very carefully” before going “a bit more hell for leather” only when certain that the system can cope.
Managed migration contrasts with “natural migration”, which sees claimants of legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance forced to move onto universal credit when their circumstances change.
Under managed migration, the final stage of the rollout, claimants of legacy benefits will be moved onto universal credit even if their circumstances have not changed.
A managed migration pilot project began in Harrogate in 2019, but it had to be suspended last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ministers have yet to announce when they will resume the managed migration process.
Disability News Service reported earlier this month how a newly-released DWP document from 2019 had shown that organisations consulted by DWP on managed migration had raised repeated concerns that moving people from legacy benefits onto universal credit would see them “fall between the cracks and suffer hardship”.
The document showed that DWP had research “highlighting the same risks”.
Couling told the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday: “There are some very vulnerable people on the end of our services here and we have to be absolutely certain that things work and they work well and you can run them at volume.”
He said DWP would develop managed migration on “small volumes” of claimants, before testing it on larger volumes to check if the system can cope, before only then going “very fast”.
Asked whether the pace of managed migration would be increased during 2022, he told Conservative MP Nigel Mills: “Ministers have said they will make a formal announcement to parliament, but I am strongly hinting to you today that my slow, slow, slow experience at the start of this [means] that you really do need to develop your processes and do that with small volumes.”
DWP’s permanent secretary, Peter Schofield, also suggested that the rollout would only start accelerating through 2023 and 2024.
Couling said DWP still believed that the rollout of universal credit would be completed by the end of 2024, seven years after the end date originally announced by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
But he also admitted that universal credit had had “a number of really rather profound problems that I was asked to try and deal with about seven years ago.
“I think I have managed to do that. But… I don’t have a time machine… I’ve tried for a Tardis but the permanent secretary won’t let me have one.
“I have always said to this committee… we will go at the rate that is [consistent] with the safe delivery of our services.”
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