Universal Credit Roll-Out To Miss Deadline
The roll-out of the Universal Credit benefit scheme will miss its deadline, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has admitted.
The announcement came just two hours ahead of the Chancellor's delivery of the Autumn Statement, leaving the Department for Work and Pensions open to criticisms of trying to bury bad news.
Delivery of the flagship welfare reform due to replace a bundle of means-tested benefits had already been pushed back to 2017, but Mr Duncan Smith has admitted now even that may not be possible.
Publishing details of the timing for the introduction of the new system the Department for Work and Pensions, it now seems that movement toward transferring people to the new system is to move forward more slowly than had been expected.
The Department for Work and Pensions said about 700,000 claimants of the Employment and Support Allowance would not transfer to the new system by the 2017 deadline.
Making the admission of delay, Mr Duncan Smith said: "This is a once in a generation reform. And we're going to get it right by bringing it in carefully and responsibly.
"Our approach will ensure that while we continue to enhance the IT for Universal Credit, we will learn from and expand the existing service, so that we fully understand how people interact with it, and how we can best support them.
"Early indications show that people are positive about the new benefit, and my department is working hard to ensure this good progress continues."
Universal Credit is still expected to be rolled out to eight million households, a department spokesman said.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls used his response to the Autumn Statement to criticise Mr Duncan Smith saying that Universal Credit was "in deep shambles".
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: "On the morning of the Autumn Statement this is yet another shambolic announcement from this out-of-touch Government.
"Iain Duncan Smith has today admitted what everyone has known for months - that Universal Credit is massively behind schedule.
"But just a couple of weeks ago he was telling Parliament the Government would 'roll out Universal Credit on the plan and programme already set out'.
"It's clear that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have completely failed to get to grips with their flagship welfare reform and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money have been written off as a result."
The Universal Credit scheme has been dogged by problems.
Last month it was savaged by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, who questioned whether the project could still be fully delivered by 2017, and criticised it for "shocking" failures that had wasted at least £140m.
They said the scheme - which wraps up six different benefits into a single monthly payment - had been blighted by "alarmingly weak" management, with secretaries allowed to authorise purchase orders worth more than £20m.
Mr Duncan Smith was accused of attempting to blame the failure of the programme on his department's chief civil servant, Robert Devereux, a claim he denied.
It was alleged that Mr Duncan Smith and members of his team had approached Conservative members of the Public Accounts Committee ahead of its report to ensure Mr Devereux was singled out for criticism.
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