A radical benefits shake-up being piloted in a Greater Manchester town is today being rolled out to other parts of the region.
The government says signs from its trial of the Universal Credit – launched in Ashton-under-Lyne 10 weeks ago – are ‘encouraging’.
From this week the new welfare model will be extended to Wigan. It aims to roll six benefit payments into one making the system simpler – while encouraging claimants to take more responsibility for their finances.
Claimants will also be expected to make their applications online.
Lord David Freud, minister for welfare reform, said nearly twice the expected number of people had been able to do that.
He said: “The most interesting thing is the vast bulk of people have done it online, more than nine out of 10."
“We thought it would be around 50 per cent."
“Quite a few of the people who weren’t competent used families and friends to do it and others did it on their phones."
“It shows how society is moving along.”
The new benefit, a central plank of the government’s welfare shake-up, has been repeatedly attacked by Labour and some major charities.
As well as raising fears over internet access, they say replacing weekly with monthly payments – and expecting claimants to pay their own rent – could cause arrears and a rise in evictions.
But Lord Freud said safeguards included returning people to the old system if they built up two months of arrears – with the debt clawed back through subsequent benefit payments. Arrears are running at about seven per cent under the pilot, he said, roughly as expected.
He added: “We have not found any major problems in this pilot."
“People are able to negotiate the system pretty smoothly, which is very encouraging.”
Universal Credit will be introduced in Oldham and Warrington from the end of next month and is expected to roll out across the country from October.
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