The timetable to transfer claimants of benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) to universal credit (UC) has had to be drastically altered in the face of fierce opposition from within and outside the Conservative party. In addition, efforts are being made to make the transfer less financially punishing.
The BBC has obtained leaked documents about the migration of claimants from other benefits to UC.
According to the Today programme, small scale testing of the transfer process was due to begin in January 2019, with large scale movements of 95,000 claimants a month due to start in July.
Now, however, testing of the transfer process will not begin until July 2019 and large scale movement will not begin until November 2020.
As a result, the process will not end until December 2023, nine months later than recently announced and six and a half years later than intended when UC was introduced.
The leaked document fits with an announcement to MPs made yesterday by Esther McVey, who said:
“Under the process of managed migration, the roll-out will be slow and measured. It will start not in January 2019, but later in the year. For a further year we will be learning as we go with a small amount of people—maybe 10,000—to ensure that the system is right. The roll-out will then increase from 2020 onwards. It will be slow and measured, and we will adapt and change as we go.”
According to the BBC, steps are also being proposed to ensure that claimants do not lose out so heavily during the transfer process.
- Continuing to pay income support and ESA for two weeks after a claim for UC has been made, rather than stopping them immediately.
- Reducing the maximum amount that can be reclaimed to pay for UC advances from 40% to 30% of the total monthly award.
- More help for the self-employed.
However, the treasury has not yet agreed to any of these measures.
The document also warns that none of this may happen:
“We can currently offer no assurances that ultimately these proposals will prove to be deliverable, can survive legal challenges and do not invite new political criticism by creating new policy issues”.
The slow down of the transfer also raises a question mark over the award of £51 million to Citizens Advice to provide ‘universal support’ budgeting, digital and claim help to UC claimants.
At the time of the payments, £12 million was to set up the service by April 2019 and a further £39 million for running the service.
According to the Disability News Service
“A DWP spokeswoman confirmed today (Thursday) that the funding of £39 million was for just one year, “with a review at the end”.”
When that contract price was agreed, were both the DWP and CA aware that rather than 95,000 claimants a month being transferred from July 2019 onwards, only 1,000 a month were likely to be moved?
Or, with little more than 1% of the intended number of claimants being transferred each month in the first year, will the DWP now try to claw cash back?
But, whatever the result for CA, the slow down is likely to come as a small crumb of comfort to ESA claimants, whose chances of being forced onto UC within the next two years are now much reduced.