By Andrew Holt
The Department for Work and Pensions has published its response to the Committee's report, Universal Credit implementation: meeting the needs of vulnerable claimants.
The Committee's report, published in November 2012, assessed the Government's planned implementation of Universal Credit from the perspective or more vulnerable claimants [Third Report of Session 2012-13, HC 576].
Commenting on the Government's response, the chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP, said: "Our report recognised that the new Universal Credit system is likely to be accessible to the majority of claimants but we expressed serious concerns about how more vulnerable people would cope with the changes.
"We recommended that the Government looked very carefully at its plans for implementation of Universal Credit to ensure that vulnerable people receive the support they need.
"The Government Response shows some movement in this direction and I welcome its stated intention to monitor closely various aspects of the policy. However, significant concerns remain."
"It is still not clear how many of the risks identified in our Report are to be managed. These risks affect some of the most vulnerable people in society; it is vital they are dealt with effectively.
"I am particularly disappointed that the Government has declined to accept our recommendation that it should develop and publish a clear definition of vulnerable groups."
Begg noted that a great deal of discretion will be given to DWP staff to make decisions about who needs extra support.
"This creates the risk of people not being identified before they have fallen into hardship and debt," she warned.
"It is clear from the Response that the Government is still working on quite a lot of the detailed arrangements for how the new benefit will work in practice, particularly for vulnerable claimants."
Implementation of Universal Credit begins in April this year, in the Pathfinder areas, followed by national roll-out for new claims from October 2013.
Begg added: "It is essential that claimants have certainty from the outset about how this benefit, which brings together many existing payments, including housing costs, will affect them.
"Our Report made clear that we intend to scrutinise the detail of Universal Credit implementation at regular intervals. We will continue to monitor this policy area closely, including taking further oral evidence from the Government in the near future. "
The Government's Response is published as Command Paper 8537 and will be available to download from the Committee's website at: www.uk.parliament/workpencom
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