Universal Credit will not be ready as planned by 2017 for up to 700,000 individuals, Iain Duncan Smith has conceded.
Despite giving assurances, as recently as September, that the flagship benefit reform would be delivered “in time and in budget” Duncan Smith has had to back-track on that promise.
Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are concerned that beneficiaries of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will now not be transferred by 2017 as previously promised.
In an interview with the BBC Duncan Smith said: “We may take a little longer on those who are already in, say, ESA [Employment and Support Allowance] who have no work requirement on them because they are a very vulnerable group and therefore Howard Shiplee may say we want to take a little more time on them because they need to be processed carefully and dealt with carefully.
“But essentially Universal Credit as a benefit will be the benefit by 2016 and the remains of the vast, vast majority of the stock will be in place pretty much by the end of 2017.”
In his Autumn Statement response shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said: “No mention of the Universal Credit in the Autumn Statement, IDS in deep shambles.”
An official DWP statement on Universal Credit states: “Most of the existing benefit claimants will be moved over to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017. Decisions on the later stages of Universal Credit roll out will also be informed by the completion of the enhanced IT and these decisions will determine the final details for how people transition to the new benefit.”
TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Such a major overhaul of the benefits system was always going to take a good while to get right. But despite concerns that the government is rushing through complex changes far too quickly, the Secretary of State continued to insist that all was well.
“Today we have seen an embarrassing admission from Iain Duncan Smith that it is to be several more years before Universal Credit is properly in operation.”
Universal Credit aims to merge numerous work and out of work benefits into one credit and relies on employee PAYE information reported through RTI to function effectively.