At the core of my Department is the desire to deliver a considered and considerate welfare system that incentivises work. Universal credit has been rolled out nationally, and there are now more than 2 million claimants. We continue to listen to claimants, stakeholders and Members of Parliament in order to improve the system. In short, we examine what works, and act accordingly. That is why one of my first acts as Secretary of State was to announce legislation for a small pilot to move existing welfare claimants on to universal credit. Managed migration involves moving claimants who are still on legacy benefits, and whose circumstances have not changed, across to universal credit. The pilot will give colleagues and claimants confidence in the Department’s approach to the transition before we return to the House to report on progress and seek permission to extend managed migration.
Today I am laying regulations to commence the pilot, for no more than 10,000 claimants, which will start this month as promised. We will begin with one site—in Harrogate, as previously announced—to ensure that people’s transition is carefully supported. There is a possibility that the pilot will be extended to further sites as it progresses. We will be able to learn from putting processes into practice, and to adapt our approach accordingly.
The Department will continue to work closely with expert stakeholders to ensure that the pilot supports the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach claimants. Claimants who are moved to universal credit will be eligible for transitional financial protection to safeguard their legacy entitlement. They will also have access to additional financial support before they receive their first universal credit payment, including the two-week run-on of housing benefit and the discretionary hardship payment, as well as advances.
Let me reiterate that the Department does not intend to stop the benefits of anyone who participates in the pilot. Instead, we will be testing how we can encourage and support those who move over to universal credit, without halting their benefits. This listen-and-adapt, evidence-based approach is the right way in which to deliver universal credit.
We have also revised our approach to claimants who are entitled to the severe disability premium. The regulations that I am laying today will enable us to begin to provide support for claimants who were entitled to the premium and have already moved to universal credit. From
Following the High Court judgment on the severe disability premium, the regulations will also—in 2021—bring an end to the barrier that currently prevents its recipients from moving to universal credit as a result of a change of circumstances. Until 2021, anyone who currently receives the premium and whose circumstances change will continue to be held on legacy benefits, as they are now. After 2021, the barrier will be removed. SDP claimants will move on to universal credit through natural migration, gaining access to the new payments that are available to those who have already moved over.
The Department will continue to follow this approach in the weeks and months to come, identifying areas for improvement and seeking new ways to give better support to claimants. In the months ahead, we will complete an evaluation of the effectiveness of universal credit sanctions in helping people into work in order to report to the Select Committee in the autumn. We will be evaluating the results of our pilots which explored the possibility of offering claimants more frequent benefit payments on demand. We will be launching a new service enabling private sector landlords to receive housing benefit rent payments directly from the Department, and continuing a proof of concept in south London to test a “written warning” sanctions model, according to which a sanction would not be applied on the first failure to attend an appointment.
I am determined—and I know the Department that I lead is determined—to ensure that universal credit is always a force for good.