Universal Credit in the spotlight again as pilot timetable changes

03.04.2013, von Derek du Preez

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that only one of the four planned pilot areas for its high profile welfare reform project, Universal Credit, will go live in April as planned, once again raising questions about the success of the implementation so far.

Ashton-under-Lyne will be the only Jobcentre in the country to trial the new system from 29th April, with Wigan, Warrington and Oldham only going live in the beginning of July. A progressive national rollout is planned from October, with the project due to complete by 2017.

Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working credit. The IT system supporting the project will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.

However, rumours and speculation have been mounting in recent weeks that the project is plagued with problems due to a number of changes in senior management at DWP and leaked information about the pilots needing to revert to manual processes to carry out calculations.

DWP insists that the project is not delayed and a spokesperson told Computerworld UK that the new information simply provides greater detail on how the pilots will work - despite previous DWP documents and notices suggesting that the pilots would go live in all four areas in April and be trialled for six months.

"There is no delay. Our plan has always been to test Universal Credit in a safe and controlled way during Pathfinder to ensure we get it right for the start of the national rollout in October," said a DWP spokesperson.