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Councils to pilot universal credit

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Councils have won a long battle to be part of the Department for Work & Pensions’ piloting of the universal credit system.

The DWP had been reluctant to allow local authority involvement, but welfare minister Lord Freud has now written to the LGA inviting proposals.

He said a prospectus would be issued in April for short- and long-term pilots, with a goal of helping people access “digital services and the labour market” with less assistance.

Short-term pilots will be used to ensure that councils are ready for the new system’s launch in 2013. Long-term pilots will help to develop integrated working and diverse models for delivering the credit after 2015.

Lord Freud said: “As well as proposals for pilots that are clearly local authority led, we would expect to see more diverse models emerging where the local authority is not the key agent, but may have a partnership or commissioning role”.

Paul Raynes, LGA head of programmes, said the DWP’s change of heart would be important for councils.

“Many councils feel part of their core purpose is to serve their community around access to work and employability, so joining up with universal credit is something they are very keen to do,” he said.

Universal credit will be phased in from 2013 and will eventually replace the multiple welfare payment streams now used, including housing benefit and income support.

Ministers have said the credit will simplify the benefit system and provide an incentive to work.

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