Councils that have not yet introduced universal credit were due this week to be sounded out on their readiness for the new system, LGC understands.
The joint approach from the Department for Work & Pensions and the LGA comes in the wake of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s announcement at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham last month that his department was planning to “accelerate” the delivery of the new welfare system.
He said the new system, under which a wide range of benefits will be rolled into a single payment, would be rolled out nationally to all jobcentres and local authorities across the country in 2015-16, starting in February.
A source close to the discussions told LGC that the DWP and the LGA were this week expected to consult job centres and councils respectively about their readiness for the task.
The source added that local conversations about “who wants to be in the rollout and when” had only just begun.
A revenues and benefits director at a council that has not yet introduced universal credit told LGC their authority was “pretty much in the dark” about when they would start processing universal credit claims.
LGC understands that the areas that introduce universal credit from February will use the same IT system that is being used in Wigan MBC, Warrington BC, Tameside MBC and Oldham MBC. These have been piloting universal credit since last year.
However, alongside this the department is also developing an “enhanced digital service” that could be adopted some time in the future.
This service is being trialled at Sutton LBC. A DWP spokeswoman said the borough was chosen because it “represents the average population”.
Another senior figure close to the talks about universal credit told LGC that rolling out the current IT system nationally while developing another one “doesn’t inspire much confidence”.
A spokeswoman for the department said: “It has always been our intention to enhance the digital service as we roll out.”
The DWP had previously set a target of enrolling 184,000 claimants on universal credit by April 2014, but the latest statistics show that only 16,590 people had started claiming between 29 April 2013 and 11 September 2014. Of those, 14,170 were still claiming on that date.