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Full migration of UC by March 2023 a viable plan

11 July 2018

The Director General of Universal Credit gives a cagey response on universal credit rollout to members of the Public Accounts Committee.

Read full transcript - Monday 9 July 2018

Gareth Snell MP asked Neil Couling, Director General Universal Credit: Are you still content that by March 2023 you will have completed the migration activities?

Neil Couling: It is a viable plan.

Gareth Snell: That isn’t necessarily what I asked. I asked whether you are confident you will meet that target.

Peter Schofield, Permanent Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions: It is a challenging and viable plan. The Report quite rightly uses words from the Major Projects Review Group, which gave a challenge back—it talked about growth in scope and various other things. It is challenging, but it is viable.

Gareth Snell: On the profile of that migration, moving over individuals with simple cases is obviously very different from moving over families with complex cases. At what point in that migration period will you know whether you are going to meet that milestone target by March 2023?

Neil Couling: I am deliberately not showing too much of my hand on this at the moment, because I want to engage with the stakeholder groups about the best way of tackling this challenge, but you will effectively need to hit a run rate at a certain date if you are going to be able to complete the exercise. The work that we have done internally suggests that the organisation would struggle at anything over 100,000 cases a month coming across, so that is the upper limit. I do not want to be at 100,000, because that might stress the organisation and we need to have some capability to move around, so I want to set that at a lower level. I am deliberately not saying what that is now, but that is what the next phase of planning and testing is all about.

The key thing here—as Members of Parliament, you will know this—is how claimants react in contact with the plan. The one thing we know from Universal Credit and the test and learn approach we have taken is that there may be a difference between what you think will happen and what actually happens. That was very true around housing—Newcastle will tell you this—in the early days. Claimants did not respond as we had anticipated. We have learned from that, but we need to continue that learning into this next really important phase.

Gareth Snell: Without giving away too much about the cards you want to keep close to your chest, on what date do you think you will be able to assess that you have either hit that run rate sufficiently or you have not and then report back to us about whether you expect further delays?

Neil Couling: It will be into 2020, because I have a year’s worth of testing, which will be low volume, at the start of this. We will then want to do what we did with full service—try it in volume and see what happens—before committing irrevocably to a certain volume. We are talking about 2020 or 2021.

Gareth Snell: So in roughly 18 months’ time you will know whether you will hit that target?

Neil Couling: Yes. I am very keen to protect this testing period and to not see it eaten away at.

So set your clocks for January 2020 – and see how viable the plan was.

A viable plan?