By Tony Collins
Figures published yesterday on gov.uk show that the number of successful Universal Credit claims remains low.
It means the IT that is being designed to handle millions of claims has had only a relatively small number of actual claims to test it. The small number is because eligibility to claim is being kept narrow. Most successful claimants are single people with no children, are not on other benefits, and have straightforward claims.
Yesterday’s figures show that 35,620 of the people who have made a claim have, up to 8th January 2015, attended an initial interview and gone on to start Universal Credit.
This compares with 30,850 the previous month.
The figures were collected at a time Universal Credit was available within 96 Jobcentre Plus offices – about one in eight.
Universal Credit was rolled out to the whole of the North West of England on 15th December 2014. It is being rolled out to all Jobcentre Plus offices and local authorities across the country from 16th February 2015.
The signs are that the IT being used to roll out Universal Credit is not as robust as claimed by the DWP.
One claimant who featured in a Government film about Universal Credit said later it is riddled with computer problems. In the DWP film, Daniel Pacey said Universal Credit helped him find work and was far better than jobseeker’s allowance.
Now Pacey, aged 24, says his jobcentre struggled with failing computer systems, according to BBC Inside Out North West. A DWP spokesman told the BBC:
“The IT system adapts smoothly to claims as they become more complex, which we have already seen across the North West.
“Computer problems in offices are separate issues and are resolved quickly but these do not impact the operating system, or have an impact on claims.”
The DWP is right to be going slowly and cautiously with the Universal Credit roll out, especially as the IT seems to be less than robust.
What’s less understandable is that the DWP and IDS have trumpeted this week the start of a national roll out of Universal Credit – including more complex cases – as if this will prove that the system works.
How can anyone know whether the system works when so few people are being allowed to claim?
The DWP is refusing to publish its internal reports on the progress or otherwise of the Universal Credit IT programme.
Can IDS really expect his announcements on Universal Credit’s success to be credible when his department is keeping one side of the story hidden from public view?