Who should be responsible for helping UK citizens with Universal Credit?
The group believe that DWP hasn’t committed to funding or supporting this part of the process – getting recipients online and using the system.
The group discussed the fact that the DWP hasn’t said yet who should be the de-facto body for advice, but if it’s not going to be the local authorities any more, who should it be?
The debate looked at the assumption that organisations such as CAB, Age UK, and housing associations themselves will do it. However, all these organisations are having funding and grants cut by the Government.
Organisations such as CAB and Shelter are seeking to minimise the effect of funding cuts. Shelter is developing its services to ensure it can help as many people as possible, as it is widely anticipated that the need for advice will increase as Universal Credit is introduced.
The concept of digital and community champions was also noted by attendees, including Affinity Sutton which has embarked on such a programme.
Should we be taking a step back and looking at household infrastructure – examining housing itself and what social housing should mean to a benefit claimant from a telecoms, hardware and utilities perspective?
Should Universal Credit claimants have to look beyond the Government to a third-party support network of organisations for information on how to claim? Should we be starting further back from this, with third-party support and charities becoming responsible locally and nationally for digital enablement?
What is the Government doing around digital enablement and which department should be responsible for it? Should that team demonstrate much closer links with the DWP and Universal Credit deployment?
How should the change to Universal Credit be managed?
Ensuring that the right hardware, infrastructure and training is available, but in an order that makes it cost effective for the provider and inviting for the user. Stone believes hardware availability is the starting point for progress.
- The presumption is that everybody is online with many web-based information sources
- The availability of devices needs to come before the training
- UK’s broadband needs funding and subsidizing to ensure that all have affordable access – but whose responsibility is this?
- Should organisations such as Post Office be providing transactional assistance with Universal Credit kiosks and terminals to help claimants?
Attendees also noted a suggestion that the privacy lobby should be more greatly consulted and involved in the project to prevent and plan for any data sharing crises, including major issues with public perception.
How big is the adoption issue?
The higher the percentage adoption of the Universal Credit scheme, the bigger the problems may become, due to the most vulnerable claimants with deeper special needs requiring more individually constructed solutions and assistance. At 70-85% adoption, inclusion becomes very complicated and current infrastructure will find it difficult to cope.
The debate considered the issue of society’s tendency to focus on the most vulnerable members’ ability to be part of a project, when the majority of adoption issues will stem from the ordinary user who does have internet and device access but still doesn’t adopt Universal Credit. The size and complexity of this group needs to be measured and managed.
The attendees noted three main groups of adopters which need to be provided for:
- Those that are using the net already and should be able to access Universal Credit easily
- Those who could but don’t have the tools to be able to do so
- Those who can’t and won’t ever because of various barriers
What affects the internet experience when it comes to dealing with authority?
The discussion noted that user experience, trust and urgency all affect a user’s ability to work with a new web-based scheme.
- Failure, or the thought of failure to complete a claim, can have significant economical and emotional affects on a claimant, therefore they are more likely to not try at all, or to seek face to face help as a first point of contact
- Trust in the internet is not fully matured
- Lack of personal interaction on the internet with claims may lead some to feel their case or claim is not progressing
- Research on advice-seeking behaviour from Shelter suggests that different people and problems tend towards different channels. The most vulnerable and the most urgent problems tend towards face to face services.
- Attendees agreed that If one channel gets blocked, people will approach you in other ways, either by phone, or by post, so these channels need to remain available
What are the most notable barriers to success as Universal Credit proceeds?
- The problems associated with a fragmented roll out –
- Makes it difficult to roll out training and support programmes
- PR for success stories will be hard
- The same advice has to be available to everybody all over the country
- Digital inclusion doesn’t belong to one single government department – there needs to be proper accountability for digital engagement – the group felt that PR presence has gone up, real progression has gone down
- Regional variations need to be acknowledged with greater depth, as do the back-end problems of claimants moving and changing housing associations, support networks, names and claim details
Comparative projects for further research
NAO study into the student loans online scheme is a good comparison. Next report into payment collection – NAO report due in March 2013
In 2009 the scheme failed despite a young, internet savvy population with good levels of web access.
DfT BBIS scheme, launched in 2012, has seen significant online success despite high levels of users with special needs.
How is the Universal Credit project progressing from a back-end and large scale IT project perspective?
Attendees agreed that from a back end point of view, the project appears half-baked and not tightly managed enough, and clarity of governance must be implemented.
The consensus was that, like previous large-scale Government IT projects, stakeholders might have to wait for a major crisis in the project to be able to move forward – so that DWP can face the crisis and the stakeholders like us can step in when asked: ‘where do we go from here’
The group felt that as DWP is building UC on top of existing systems – integration just hasn’t been taken into account enough and must be revisited.