90 per cent of people claim benefits online, suggests small-scale Universal Credit pilot

By Sooraj Shah
03 Dec 2013 View Comments

A small-scale pilot for the Universal Credit welfare system has found that 90 per cent of people claimed their benefits online.

Research firm IFF surveyed 901 claimants in four ‘pathfinder' areas of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Wigan, Warrington and Oldham, over a four-month period from July to October 2013. It also surveyed 1,800 new Jobseeker's Allowance claimants, who would be eligible for Universal Credit if they were living in the ‘pathfinder' areas, to allow comparisons with the current benefit system.

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"Universal Credit is bridging the digital gap, with 90 per cent of people making their claims online. This is higher than the proportion of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance online under the current benefits system," the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.

About seven per cent of claimants had tried to claim online but gave up and instead used another method because of issues that they had encountered. Eighteen people reported that they knew it was possible to claim online but chose not to because they did not have access to the internet, or because they preferred to talk to someone face to face, among other reasons. One per cent of claimants said they did not know it was possible to claim online.

Many of those who made their claims online encountered problems, with issues including the website crashing (13 per cent) and the claim taking too long (10 per cent). About 73 per cent managed to complete their online application to Universal Credit on the first attempt.

The system, which aims to roll six benefits into one, will have to endure far greater tests, as this pilot was on a small scale and involved claimants of a restricted demographic, which may have contributed to better-than-expected results.

"It is vital that we continue to build on the progress made in these pathfinder areas and ensure that Universal Credit makes work pay," said the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.

The DWP has been criticised by MPs for its "alarmingly weak management" of the Universal Credit programme, which has cost £425m so far. The project has had extensive delays that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) blamed on a lack of financial and internal controls. It is estimated that the DWP will have to write off £140m from the project.

In an exclusive interview with Computing, a consultant who has seen first-hand the destructive nature of the DWP's IT strategy, explained how it is hampered by employees worrying about whether the Daily Mail would approve of their actions.

He also urged the government to fire suppliers who waste "billions of pounds" on failed projects and suggested that the Universal Credit programme is one of many DWP failures on the horizon.

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