I have been contacted by constituents regarding the roll-out of Universal Credit and raising concerns about claimants receiving their first payment.

Key to the design of Universal Credit are the monthly assessment periods. Payments are made monthly in arrears to mirror the world of work, making the transition to working life easier and giving claimants more responsibility for managing their finances. Claimants will usually receive their payment seven days after each assessment period ends.

Many claimants may come to Universal Credit with final earnings to support them until their first payment, or may find work relatively quickly. For those individuals who think they may face difficulties before their first payment, an advance payment can be requested. Advance payments can help with managing the initial period before payments start and are treated as a loan, with repayments automatically deducted from future Universal Credit payments. Increasing numbers of people now claim this – since June, the majority of claimants did so.

However, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced at Conservative Party Conference that guidance to staff is being refreshed to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front, receiving this advance within 5 working days, rather than waiting 6 weeks.  Furthermore, if someone is in immediate need, the payment will be fast-tracked so that they will receive it on the same day.

Rightly for a programme of this scale, the priority continues to be its safe and secure delivery. The controlled expansion of Universal Credit started in April 2013 and the rollout will continue, and to the planned timetable. The Government is not going to rush things – only 8 per cent has been rolled out so far and full roll-out will not finish until March 2022.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions sent the following letter on 6 October:

Dear colleague 

As you may have seen, earlier this week I announced that government has approved the plan to continue the scheduled roll out of Universal Credit Full Service. I thought it would be useful to put the latest announcement in context.

We want a welfare system that helps people into work, supports people who need help, and is fair to those who pay for it. Universal Credit replaces the outdated and complex benefits system of the past which too often stifled people's potential. In the old system it often only made sense to work for no more than 16 hours a week. Universal Credit ensures people are better off in work, the payment is gradually reduced as earnings increase, so claimants won't lose all their benefits at once if they're on a low income.  Universal Credit is a flexible and personalised system which brings six different payments into one and helps people out of work and those in work but on a low income. It offers unprecedented support that is personalised for individual needs, including extra support on childcare costs for working parents.

The latest data is clear that Universal Credit is transforming the welfare system. Last month the Government published analysis that showed that claimants receiving Universal Credit move into work quicker and in greater numbers than those on the existing Jobseeker's Allowance. This is strong evidence that this policy is working and something that should be widely welcomed from all quarters.

There has been significant noise in the media around payment timeliness. Although there were issues earlier in the roll-out, the recent data are positive. On Monday, DWP published data which showed a continued improvement in performance, with over 80% of cases paid in full at the end of their first assessment period. However ,it is important to note that around 90% of claimants receive some payment at the end of their first assessment period. For some of those not paid in full, those awaiting verification of a certain element e.g. childcare, get a part payment. And a significant number of cases cannot be paid because those claimants have failed to sign up to their commitments to seek work.

I understand the concerns that have been raised that, when people first claim, they have to wait before they receive money.   However, those who need it are not left without support. Advance payments are available and are paid within days. And if someone is in immediate need, then we will fast track the payment, so they will receive it on the same day. The claimant entitlement is adjusted over the next six months to take this into account, in exceptional circumstances this can be deferred for up to three months. Our most recent data show that just over half of claimants took out an advance which shows good awareness, but I am keen that more is done. As I announced earlier this week, we are therefore refreshing the guidance to DWP staff to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front. 

Recent media has suggested that increasing the pace of the roll out represents an unmanageable risk. It is worth noting that we successfully expanded Universal Credit to 29 jobcentres in July. The data I published this week shows that performance in fact improved during this phase.

Nevertheless, we have taken a measured approach to date, and will continue to do so-ensuring that we are getting it right rather than doing it quickly. DWP has therefore been rolling out Universal Credit at a steady pace, testing and learning as it goes and making modifications to address issues as they emerge. The most recent phase of expansion will only take the proportion of the forecast claimant population receiving Universal Credit from 8% today to 10% by the end of January. Roll out will be completed in 2022.

Since becoming Secretary of State I have reviewed the performance of the Universal Credit delivery programme. The decision to expand as planned has been subject to extensive scrutiny; from within my Department, from the Cabinet Office Implementation Unit and a full-blown independent review under the auspices of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. All three concluded that it was safeto proceed.

Faced with the conclusions that it is safe to proceed and the fact that claimants on Universal Credit find work quicker and get more work, going ahead is clearly in the public interest. Officials in my Department will be writing to those MPs with constituencies included in the roll out and contacting local partners to share this news and to seek their ongoing support in the delivery of this important reform. 

The Rt Hon David Gauke MP