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Universal Credit

Volume 519: debated on Monday 22 November 2010

2. What steps his Department plans to take to assist employers to provide real-time pay data for universal credit computations. (25107)

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is continuing to consult with employers on how best to collect real-time pay information. I should stress that the information required for the universal credit is already being collected by HMRC as part of its reforms to the pay-as-you-earn system, which are on track. The adoption of the new real-time information system, for the benefit of employers, universal credit customers and taxpayers, is already well on track.

Can the Secretary of State tell the House what proportion of the £2 billion allocated in the comprehensive spending review to implement the universal credit will go to support HMRC’s IT project, and what proportion will go as compensation, so as to avoid losers in the transition to the new universal benefit?

The right hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not give her the absolute details. We will be publishing the details shortly—well, soon, anyway—but I can tell her now that she can expect to see a significant amount, as a proportion, for the computer change. All this is covered by the money already granted through the settlement in the spending review—more than £2 billion—which will go to protect those who would have nominally been losers and to implement all the necessary IT changes, and to cover every other detail too.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s earlier answer. In the light of several terrible cases in my constituency, does he agree that it is extraordinary that the whole system of credits was introduced at all without a proper real-time information system?

The PAYE system is ultimately the responsibility of my colleagues at HMRC, although we will obviously require an element of that to implement the change. That change will make life considerably easier for us in delivering those benefits without the normal mistakes that are made—mistakes that have caused overpayments to people, followed by attempts to claw them back that cause hardship for many people on low incomes. I believe that in due course the change will deliver a net benefit to everybody.

Under the Secretary of State’s proposals, councils are to use the real-time data to calculate entitlement to council tax benefit, although the entitlements will vary according to each local authority. What is his estimate of the cost to the Department for Work and Pensions of supporting councils in creating their own mini-benefits system in each locality?

I will give those details soon. I will not give them today, but I can say that we have already been working on the issue. We believe that, as things stand right now, we will manage the cost within our present budgets—it will not require anything extra for us. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it forms a challenge to us—I accept that—but localising elements of benefits is important to local people, and councils have very much wanted to do this. I will definitely give him the figures for that in due course, but we believe that we will be able to manage it, and I am more than happy to discuss that with him.