Only one area to get new benefit

Benefit bosses have denied that a flagship welfare reform is “on the edge of disaster”, after it was announced a full trial of the new Universal Credit will start at just one Jobcentre.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the centre, in Ashton-under-Lyme, Lancashire, would accept claims under the new benefit from April as part of a “controlled approach”. Wigan, Warrington and Oldham will initially test only a “commitment” signed by claimants setting out what they will do to find work, before dealing with claims from July.

A DWP spokesman said the timetable was “entirely consistent” with a previous claim it would “go live” in all four areas from April.

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The benefit is due to be rolled out nationally from October.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced last year that the trial “is expected to see up to 1,500 new Universal Credit claimants coming on stream across four areas – Tameside, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington – each month”.

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His Labour shadow, Liam Byrne, said beginning a full trial in only one area was “yet another embarrassing setback for Universal Credit” and that the IT systems for the scheme “appear to be nowhere near ready”.