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Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations 2022

Volume 824: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

Motion to Regret

Moved by

That this House regrets that the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/752) do not take adequate steps to protect claimants from financial hardship removing (1) the requirement to evaluate the managed migration programme after the initial 10,000 claimants have been transferred, and (2) the obligation to involve Parliament in the decision to expand the rollout of the programme nationally.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument).

My Lords, my regret Motion relates to the regulations which amend the process of “managed migration”, the means by which DWP plans to move people who are currently claiming legacy benefits to universal credit. Some 2.5 million households receive legacy benefits, with most receiving ESA or tax credits. Some of those households will move on to universal credit over time through “natural migration” if, for example, their circumstances change. Some will choose to move and some will end their benefit claims altogether. The rest will be moved on to universal credit via a compulsory managed migration process. This was originally intended to be completed by April 2017. It is now due to happen, I believe, by late 2024. Will the Minister confirm if the current aim is still to complete migration of all legacy benefit claims by late 2024?

Concerns about this process have been expressed over many years, both within Parliament and outside. Originally, we all assumed the term “managed migration” meant that DWP would in fact manage the process of transferring people from the current benefit on to universal credit, but that is not what is going to happen. Rather, people will get a letter telling them to apply for universal credit and three months later their benefits will be stopped, even if they have not made an application for UC. If they do not make a successful application within that time, they will no longer be eligible for transitional protection, which is the only guarantee they have that they will not be worse off when they move to universal credit. I will return to this.

The original managed migration regulations were introduced in 2018, but the volume of concern from many quarters, including the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, led to their being withdrawn. After a couple of false starts, some new regulations were introduced in January 2019. These still, however, did not address some of the key concerns about the migration process.

DWP began testing the migration process in 2019 through a pilot, which was expected to last some 12 months before being evaluated and the process gradually scaled up. Such was the concern that the then Secretary of State undertook to come back to Parliament before the full rollout. The 2019 regulations permitted only 10,000 migration notices to universal credit to be made, after which Parliament would have to vote specifically to extend the migration to the rest of the remaining legacy benefit caseload. However, after only a handful of cases, Covid hit and the pilot was abandoned.

These new regulations remove that 10,000 limit, leaving the Government free to scale up the rollout entirely at their discretion, without any further reference to Parliament. In place of a pilot, DWP is running a “discovery phase”, but there is no transparency about how this will work or what the learning is from it. Without information about success criteria and performance, there is no way for Parliament to hold the Government to account on this hugely complex and vital project. DWP was due to publish an evaluation strategy and a full evaluation for the pilot, but I believe it is not planning to do so for the discovery phase. Is that true? If it is not doing so, will she explain why not?

I commend the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its valiant if ultimately fruitless efforts to get DWP to provide more information and answer questions about this new approach. DWP’s case seems to be in essence that it managed lots of new applications very quickly during the pandemic, so it does not need a pilot to prepare it to scale up. However, as the SLSC points out, it offered no evidence to support that view. It said:

“Our concerns were not simply an issue about gearing up IT platforms and administrative capacity but also about the practical impacts that these changes might have on benefit claimants. DWP has been entirely silent on these issues in the EM for these Regulations”.

The Committee also noted that DWP has no firm plan for achieving transition by the end of 2024, nor does it explain why providing evidence to Parliament after 10,000 notices would obstruct that objective. It said:

“In 2019, the then Secretary of State, Amber Rudd MP, undertook to gather evidence and return with it to Parliament, to seek permission to complete the migration. That undertaking has been overturned by this instrument without explaining either why that promise will not be fulfilled or offering alternative briefing to this House. … In doing this, DWP also removes any obligation to involve Parliament, particularly the House of Lords, in the decision to expand the rollout”.

The Committee then wrote to DWP to ask for further justification for the removal of the cap, but noted that the response it received:

“Does not provide any additional explanation”.

It therefore drew these regulations to the special attention of the House and concluded:

“We therefore still take the view that the House has been given insufficient detail to make an informed decision about DWP’s proposals”.

The Social Security Advisory Committee also took these regulations on formal reference. SSAC is privy to rather more detail than most parliamentarians about DWP’s plans, but its most recent report was still casting doubt on the department’s capacity to meet its ambitions, noting the lack of evidence to back up the information about DWP performance. SSAC was also concerned about the removal of the requirement to return to Parliament at the 10,000 mark. It said in its last report:

“In the absence of such a stage-gate, we are not convinced that the governance arrangements currently in place are sufficiently robust to safeguard against, or put strong mitigations in place for, those risks which have the potential to impact adversely upon up to 1.7 million households and to affect public confidence in the programme”.

Has the Minister’s department been able to satisfy SSAC any further since then?

Coming back to Parliament is not just a matter of protocol. Amber Rudd, as Secretary of State, made that commitment because of widespread concern about the impact this process could have on a very large number of people. Will the Minister tell us the latest figure for the number of people likely to be subject to managed migration? I believe that, as of December 2021, DWP estimated that some 1.7 million claims would be migrated, but that figure may have come down a touch. However, that is a lot of people.

To summarise, I have three main concerns. First, I am concerned about the way the process will affect vulnerable claimants, given that the plan to stop legacy benefits three months after a managed migration notice has been issued is going to operate like a hard stop. DWP’s suggestion that its pandemic experience means that everything will be fine does not answer the question, because the legacy benefit caseload is not the same as the caseload that came on to universal credit during the pandemic. Almost half of those people, or thereabouts, are claiming ESA, the benefit for people who are sick or disabled. Most of those are in the support group and most have been on ESA for at least five years.

Mind points out that as of last August:

“There are more than 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia receiving income-based ESA who will be affected by managed migration”.

Managed migration is therefore going to affect some of the most vulnerable claimants, including many who will really struggle to deal with this process without support. Both SSAC and the Work and Pensions Select Committee have raised concerns about the impact of managed migration on vulnerable claimants. I understand that DWP’s own research highlights similar risks.

DWP says, “Don’t worry, we will support vulnerable claimants through the managed migration process”, but the Minister will be aware that charities in this field are not confident that DWP is always good at being able to identify and support all the vulnerable claimants. CPAG research found that staff do not systematically ask if claimants with a mental health problem require any reasonable adjustments to their service, contrary to the department’s own guidance. We know from some of the terrible cases that hit the newspapers this does not always work the way that it should.

Have the Government looked again at whether it is possible for the remaining claimants to be moved across rather than having to apply afresh? If not, what assurance can the Minister give the House that vulnerable people will not find themselves left without funds? What additional safeguards are planned to ensure that all vulnerable claimants are identified, and what support will they get? Why does there have to be a hard stop on legacy benefits, and will someone’s universal credit be backdated if they do not apply in time but there has been no gap in eligibility? We need to hear detail. Simply telling us how good the DWP is—even if it is—without offering evidence will not satisfy the House any more than it satisfied the SLSC, SSAC or the Work and Pensions Committee.

Secondly, on the financial impact of transition, the DWP estimates that about 35% of households—probably about 900,000—would be worse off under UC than under the legacy system, so it is offering transitional protection whereby households are guaranteed that they will not be worse off in cash terms at the point of transition if they are subject to managed migration. I think the DWP estimates that around 600,000 households are in that position; perhaps the Minister can confirm that. The thing is, you get the transitional protection only if you are subject to managed migration and if you apply for universal credit within three months of getting your notice that you are subject to managed migration.

Furthermore, this process was designed when inflation was low and stable. Assuming that the Government do not resile from the commitment given by the former Chancellor—shortly to be Prime Minister, if he is not already—to uprate benefits in line with inflation, benefits will rise in April by 10.1%. However, that means that if you get your managed migration notice in December, so you migrate in January, your benefit will be held at the current level, so you will actually be worse off next year than you are now. However, if you move across in April, you will have already received that 10.1% increase, so your benefit will be held at the higher level when you move across to universal credit. If someone does not apply for universal credit within three months of getting their notice, the plan is to terminate their legacy benefits. If they then apply for UC, they will lose their entitlement to transitional protection. Could their benefits not be suspended instead and, if so, would that allow them to retain access to transitional protection?

Thirdly, has any consideration been given to uprating transitional protection for claimants migrated in 2022-23? Has consideration been given, say, to delaying managed migration until inflation has stabilised? If a claimant is sent a managed migration letter within three months of the end of the fiscal year, will they be advised that their transitional protection could be 10% higher if they transfer at the end of their three-month grace period rather than at the beginning?

Finally, I have two process questions. What is the justification for ditching the pilot and therefore the requirement for Parliament to be given assurance on progress and to vote before the full rollout takes place? Since the regulations ditch the legal requirement to return here before rolling out universal credit, how will the House be informed of what is happening and how can we intervene if things appear to be going wrong?

I have been very grateful to the Minister for giving me access to her officials and for the briefing that they have given me and the conversations we have had. However, I have to say that I remain shocked, not only by the way the Government have decided to cut Parliament out of decision-making on something as big as this but by their refusal to account for actions to the committees set up by Parliament precisely to scrutinise the work of the Executive. I very much hope that the Minister can give a better account to this House tonight. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for bringing forward this regret Motion, which highlights important issues arising from the continued managed migration from legacy benefits to universal credit, and I pay tribute to her detailed knowledge in this area. As she said, the Government removed the need for the DWP to return to Parliament after 10,000 claimants had been migrated to universal credit from legacy benefits without a full evaluation of the programme so far.

In supporting her Motion, I will raise three important concerns: the lack of safeguards for vulnerable claimants, as we have heard; transitional protection, given the evidence of adverse impact of technical issues on claimants; and lack of scrutiny by Parliament, removing the opportunity for MPs and Peers to challenge and question the process so far or to introduce any legislative changes thought necessary.

First, the impact on vulnerable people can be severe. Fifty per cent of claimants of legacy benefits are on employment support allowance, which is a benefit for people who have an illness or disability that prevents them working. The process of claiming universal credit is difficult but for these people it presents a major challenge. The DWP plans to stop payment of legacy benefits to those who do not comply after three months; this is a significant sanction and could cause major distress, particularly to the most vulnerable claimants. The Government have removed the cap without publishing an evaluation. It seems essential that managed migration should be halted until an evaluation has been published.

Secondly, transitional protection is available only to those households that are migrated. There is evidence of the adverse impact of a number of technical issues on certain groups of claimants. For example, claimants will be better off if migrated after the annual uprating and worse off if migrated before. That is unfair and inequitable. People transferring from temporary to mainstream accommodation will have the housing cost element added to their universal credit. That will erode any transitional protection they may receive.

Carers, of all people, who give so much to our communities and who are entitled to the limited capability for work-related activity, will lose out on transitional protection, as the LCRWA full amount means that transitional protection is eroded by this element. Transitional protection comes to an end when joint claimants separate as a couple, even when a partner has died or left as the result of an abusive relationship. A full evaluation would enable these important issues to be reviewed and, where necessary, action to be taken to strengthen transitional protection. No claimant should be worse off at the point of transfer and vulnerable claimants need to be protected from the consequences of not coping with claims.

Thirdly, there is a lack of accountability to Parliament. As the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee points out, insufficient detail has been provided for there to be confidence in the DWP’s capacity to carry out the full migration without detriment to claimants. The managed migration to universal credit is an enormous project. The volume of claimants alone is a cause of concern, in that failure to deliver competently could cause widespread distress and hardship to those claimants.

Of the 2.6 million people still on legacy benefits, up to half are vulnerable long-term claimants such as the sick or disabled. The DWP needs to provide stronger evidence of its competence to communicate with the most vulnerable claimants and of its capacity to transfer their claims without disruption to those payments. Parliament should not be excluded from this major project, the impact of which on the poorest and most disadvantaged people may be very serious. It is essential for MPs and Peers to exercise full scrutiny and accountability and that they are kept in full touch as the project is rolled out. We support the Motion.

My Lords, the Minister told the House on 17 October that, as of February 2022, 5.18 million working-age adults, or 12.7% of the GB working-age population, were receiving out-of-work benefits. She explained that the largest categories were universal credit “out-of-work” or those with “no work-related requirements”, but can she inform the House how many are claiming the legacy employment and support allowance? Presumably, they would all be migrated as part of “move to UC”.

She also said that the DWP is trying to reduce the flow into unemployment and inactivity through prevention and retention work by supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. Will the migration of people currently claiming legacy employment and support allowance into universal credit mean these claimants receive more attention from work coaches, with the aim of their being better enabled to work? This is not about being punitive, but ensuring that no one is simply parked on benefits when their well-being and sense of purpose would be greatly boosted by working or increasing their hours. This is obviously even more important when there are so many vacancies.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this important regret Motion, which she introduced with her usual power and precision. All I can do is reinforce some of the points she and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, made emphasising how much this matters for both the well-being of claimants, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances, and transparency and accountability to Parliament.

I have yet to see a convincing justification for the removal of the stage gate, which was introduced to assuage concern raised in both Houses. Two reasons were given by the then Secretary of State in a letter to the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee in May: first, that early lessons and observations were captured during the truncated pilot in Harrogate. We have not been told what those lessons were and, curiously, in oral evidence to the committee in June, the next month, the same Secretary of State said:

“We learned a bit in Harrogate, but not a lot. The main thing we learned in Harrogate is not to do it the way it was done in Harrogate.”

That is all the more reason, one would have thought, for maintaining the piloting approach that Parliament was promised. But, no, apparently UC’s resilience during the pandemic means that a pilot is no longer needed. As my noble friend pointed out, that was a very different exercise involving a very different group of people, almost certainly far fewer in vulnerable circumstances. Instead of the pilot, as we have heard, we have what is called the discovery phase—which sounds so appealing, like a mystery cruise, but has actually reassured no one, particularly the SLSC and SSAC, never mind external stakeholders.

Although ultimately SSAC drew back from recommending that the stage gate be retained, it made clear its concerns at its abolition. Among the points it made was the need to monitor the impact of the declining ratio of staff to claimants during the discovery phase and to publish before the Summer Recess the criteria for scaling up and moving on to the next phase of implementation, yet, to my knowledge, they have still not been published. Why not? Will the Minister give an undertaking today to do so, and to ensure that the declining staff/claimant ratio is monitored?

These and other issues, as we have heard, stem from a concern about the risk to claimants of the whole exercise. When the original regulations were considered, the view was put strongly by SLSC and SSAC that the balance of risk lay too heavily on the claimant. This was why CPAG, of which I am honorary president—I am grateful for its full briefing—Z2K and disability organisations called for the automatic transfer of migrated claimants, rather than requiring them to make a new claim. I never saw a plausible reason for rejecting that idea, but clearly it will not happen. As my noble friend asked, could the department at least consider the suspension of an existing claim rather than its termination in cases where a new claim is not made in the required period—not least because of the implications for transitional protection?

It is reassuring up to a point that the Secretary of State has made it clear that for the first group of claimants in this initial phase of discovery, benefits will not be terminated after the proposed three-month period, but instead there will an automatic extension of at least a month. How long will that first phase last and how big is this first group envisaged to be? Why does the one migration notice that I have seen say that a claimant must have good reason for the three months to be extended? This is the longer-term position, but it seems to contradict the Secretary of State’s assurance.

In the longer term, I am worried by the use of “good reason” as a test for exercising discretion to extend the deadline in the absence of any definition of what constitutes a good reason. A previous Work and Pensions Select Committee report on sanctions pointed to how the lack of such a definition leads to inconsistent treatment, and called for

“carefully drafted regulations on what constitutes ‘good reason’”.

At the minimum, there should be a non-exhaustive list. This also has implications for the right to transitional protection, to which I shall return.

As we have heard, the concerns of stakeholders who work with claimants stem in large part from the vulnerable circumstances many of them are in. As we have also heard, nearly half of those to be migrated are currently in receipt of ESA, many of whom are experiencing mental health problems that could well affect their ability to engage with the whole process. The DWP is well aware of the risk to claimants in vulnerable circumstances and says it will identify such claimants and support them through managed migration, but CPAG warns that experience of failure to identify and support claimants with mental health problems does not instil confidence. In June, the then Secretary of State assured the Work and Pensions Committee that benefit payments would not be stopped for vulnerable claimants during the discovery phase, but refused to explain the mechanism to ensure that. As CPAG argues, the safety and well-being of claimants in vulnerable circumstances should not have to depend on vague assurances: they need clear rights set out in regulations. Can the Minister release clarify exactly what the safeguards will be?

It is not clear what will happen after the discovery phase, when, as Z2K points out, hundreds of thousands will be moving each month, making the intensive support promised initially impossible—a concern also raised by SSAC. SSAC warns that the steep scaling phase presents

“the most significant risk … by far. Any oversights or missteps could be to the detriment of very large numbers of claimants”.

There seems to be an assumption that claimants in vulnerable circumstances can be supported by organisations with which they are in touch, but not all will necessarily have that support to hand, and we should not underestimate the pressure under which such organisations are currently working. I understand that the migration notices do not signpost claimants to local advice agencies that might be able to help. Why not?

I know that there is the Help to Claim service provided by Citizens Advice, although as far as I can see, you have to go to the government website to find about it. Moreover, that does not help once a claim is made, but many of those migrated could face problems. For instance, those migrated from ESA must get to grips with monthly payments, having been paid fortnightly in the past—an issue raised by the SLSC. There are all the difficulties associated with Digital by Default for those who struggle for various reasons, including cost, with the digital world. I co-chaired a meeting of the APPG on Poverty last week where we heard from members of the APLE group with lived experience of poverty of the difficulties created by a digital-by-default approach.

According to Z2K, a piece of qualitative research into the experiences of those in vulnerable circumstances who had moved to UC through natural migration has not been published, despite repeated requests, although apparently the Information Commissioner recently decreed that it should be. Can the Minister therefore give us some idea what it found? As it is, this is an example of the lack of transparency associated with the migration exercise, criticised by SSAC not least because of its implications for public confidence.

I have just received some Written Answers to Questions I put down, trying to get more information about what was happening, only to be told that

“learnings and observations from the first phase of discovery process

will be made available “in due course”. What is “in due course”? When will that be? It is one of those Answers we get that means absolutely nothing.

Linked to transparency is the all-important question of parliamentary accountability and scrutiny, which led to the original adoption of the stage gate. In its absence, as my noble friend has noted, SSAC questions the robustness of the Government’s governance arrangements, particularly at the point at which the discovery phase turns into steep scaling up—when, as SSAC points out, accountability to Parliament will be of the greatest importance. It suggests that

“it seems an appropriate and respectful step to report to Parliament”

in the absence of the legislative stage gate.

This is one of a number of recommendations made by SSAC, which has gone to great lengths to propose ways in which the risks to claimants could be reduced and accountability and transparency increased in the absence of the stage gate. The Secretary of State’s response was simply to formally note all the recommendations, leaving no one any wiser as to which, if any, of the recommendations the DWP might accept and act on. This really is not good enough. If I were a member of SSAC, I would be pretty cross at such a dismissive response. Can the Minister tell us exactly what the response is to each of these recommendations, either now or in writing?

Finally, I will say a few words about transitional protection. As we have heard, the DWP estimates that about 600,000 of those who move to UC under managed migration will be worse off and therefore entitled to transitional protection. This commitment is, of course, welcome, but it does not cover those who have failed to make the transfer within the required timescale. When we asked about this some time ago, pre-pandemic, the response was that we could not leave the process entirely open-ended, so it seems that this is a stick with which to beat people into claiming according to the Government’s timetable. That comes across as punitive and unfair, given that the Government have not assuaged worries about the risks to people in vulnerable circumstances of the whole exercise. Am I right in assuming that this rule will at least not apply during the initial discovery phase, when there will be an automatic extension of the deadline? As I said earlier, it is unclear how long this phase will last.

In addition, CPAG provides a number of examples, with case studies, of how transitional protection can quickly be eroded. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, these include: when someone moves from temporary or specified to mainstream accommodation, for example a woman leaving a refuge; when joint claimants cease to be a couple, including because of death; and where a carer’s health deteriorates and the carer element of UC is replaced by the limited capability for work-related activity element. Moreover, ESA claimants who do permitted work will be worse off at the point of transfer, because UC does not make allowance for permitted work. Their case studies illustrate how we might be talking about a loss of hundreds of pounds a month.

As my noble friend has warned, transitional protection is quickly eroded at a time of high inflation. Assuming that benefits continue to be uprated with the previous September’s inflation rate—the Minister knows how worried I am about rumours that they will not be next year—even if they are uprated only in line with earnings, that will affect transitional protection. It is clearly in the interests of anyone due transitional protection to migrate after the day that the benefits are uprated, rather than in the months immediately before that date, as it could make a big difference to how much benefit they receive over the coming year. Will this be made clear to those due to migrate during this period? Indeed, there may be a case for pausing the exercise prior to any April uprating, to ensure that no one loses out unfairly.

Given the concerns expressed by SSAC, the SLSC and stakeholders about the risks to claimants in vulnerable circumstances and the erosion of accountability to Parliament, I hope that, even at this late date, the DWP will think again and withdraw what, as my noble friend said, are really quite shocking regulations.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for raising this Motion, and noble Lords for their contributions. I would also like to thank representatives of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and members of the Social Security Advisory Committee for their detailed scrutiny of these regulations and for reports relating to their assessment of the impact of these regulations. We have continued ongoing dialogue with SSAC. From the meeting we had with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, we were able to confirm to her that we were in a much better place with SSAC and the committee.

I will endeavour to answer all the questions, because I want to, but I am sure that there will be some things that I have to write about. I ask noble Lords to allow me to do that. Because of the technical nature and depth of the questioning, it is very important that I get those things right. I should also say that we had a pre-brief meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and I am happy to put on record that after this debate, however it transpires, we are prepared to have further meetings so that people can raise points which we can learn from as we go on. I hope that demonstrates that we wish to get this right and be transparent.

The Universal Credit (Transitional Provision) Amendment Regulations 2022, laid on 4 July, came into force on 25 July 2022. These regulations build on insights from the previous Harrogate pilot and from the pandemic and improve the existing legislative framework so that it better supports the DWP’s revised strategy, published in April 2022, Completing the Move to Universal Credit. I can confirm that the strategy is to migrate all legacy benefit claimants into a single, streamlined and simplified benefit system by the end of 2024.

The Motion tabled today by the noble Baroness is driven not by criticisms of the technical provisions and amendments within the regulations; these make needed improvements to legislation that sets out how claimants should be migrated to UC and protections they receive in doing so. They will also remove unnecessary complexities that benefit neither the claimant nor the taxpayer or provisions that do not reflect our policy intent. The concerns are instead focused on the removal of a statutory limit on the number of claimants, in the belief that this risks a lack of oversight of DWP’s progress and transparency about the nature of our plans for migration. These reflect concerns raised by the Social Security Advisory Committee and the Secondary Legislative Scrutiny Committee, and whilst I am sympathetic to their origins, I can assure the House that they are misfounded.

First, moving to universal credit is a good thing for claimants. Overall, we estimate that most people are better off under UC. We estimate that 55% of all legacy claimants will have a higher entitlement under UC, relative to legacy benefits; around 10% of legacy claimants will see no changes; and 35% will have a lower entitlement. That 35% who are not better off will be considered for an assessment for transitional protection to support that move over. Once they are moved over, they take advantage from a more dynamic system of support that focuses on work, incentives and earnings.

However, despite these advantages, the startling fact is that those who could benefit most—those still to migrate over—either are not aware or do not share this opinion of universal credit. Internal work looking at claimants’ attitudes suggests that there is a hesitancy towards moving to universal credit as there is concern that they will not be better off.

Media reports have influenced this belief, and it is important that we change this misconception; hence we all share the priority of ensuring an effective transition to UC for those who need most help to make the journey. Sometimes this gets lost, even in our more nuanced and informed debates in this House. It is legitimate to ask questions but let us make sure that we are balanced and recognise our role in helping claimants understand the true picture: that the majority will gain and that those who do not will be protected. We have always been clear that, whatever approach we choose to take, claimants’ interests will come first; nobody will be left behind.

Since Covid, we have adapted our plans. The approach we proposed to take before the pandemic was developed particularly because there was concern that the DWP could not handle volumes. This concern proved unfounded. In three months, UC took more claims than were needed in the whole of the managed migration. This is why the legislation has been changed. The removal of the 10,000 limit was brought forward, as that ceiling on the number of claimants no longer reflected how we wished to test and learn how to transition claimants. We have moved on from 2019 and so have the regulations. It does not change our intention to make sure we have processes in place that allow claimants to move safely from legacy benefits to universal credit.

The Harrogate pilot began in October 2019 but was suspended in 2020. Learning from this informed both process design and future communications to claimants for the recent resumption. This same approach of testing and learning is replicated at the heart of our new approach to managing migration claimants.

The replacement for the Harrogate pilot is the small-scale discovery activity of the discovery phase. This is run across multiple sites, with decisions on testing and scaling-up not pitted to a pre-set timetable. It starts with small volumes across selected areas and uses quantitative and qualitative evidence to inform the programme design and processes of universal credit. Central to its implementation of ongoing learning is gathering evidence that seeks to understand the claimant’s experience. This informs how we can best support vulnerable claimants, including how to communicate with them to make sure they know what is required and how to make a claim for universal credit, and how to proactively work with claimants who do not make a claim within their three-month period, and what action they then need to take.

Finally, we have been transparent with Parliament. We set out our plans. In April 2022 we published our approach. We have been working with stakeholders, developing our plans and regularly updating them and seeking their help in the task. Our publication, Completing the Move to Universal Credit, sets out the three strands for migrating claimants, but only one—that of managed migration—provides financial security at the point of moving across.

Keeping a statutory limit on migration would mean delays in sending migration notices to claimants. More claimants, therefore, would risk experiencing a significant change in circumstances before being sent their migration notice and moving to UC naturally. Only those who receive a migration notice will be assessed for, and potentially benefit from, transitional protection at the point they transition to UC.

In addition, delays in scaling-up the process of managed migration would mean that greater volumes of claimants would be migrated to UC later, so a larger volume of legacy claimants would miss out on the benefits of claiming UC, including, where appropriate, tailored work support that can lead to higher earnings, as well as higher average benefit entitlement. The analysis within our own Completing the Move to Universal Credit paper estimates that those who are better off will be better off, on average, to the tune of £220 per month.

Finally, as with all former early elements of UC implementation, we remain committed to engagement with stakeholders and to meeting our obligations to Parliament. Stakeholder engagement with a diverse range of organisations, through regular meetings, ensures the claimants’ perspective and the needs of the vulnerable are safeguarded as part of our ongoing testing of the design of UC. In addition, we are open to wider sharing and scrutiny, not just through the wider parliamentary channels and ongoing discussions with the Work and Pensions Committee but through sharing progress publicly. This was demonstrated by our recent commitment to publish the early findings of the UC discovery journey since May 2022.

Noble Lords have raised many questions, and I will give the answers I have here. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the timescale for the DWP’s plans for the migration of all legacy claimants. As I said, it is our ambition to complete them by 2024. The noble Baroness asked how we will rapidly increase the volumes migrating through managed migration. The increase in the volume of claimants migrated will start once the department is confident that it is ready to do so; this will be no earlier than 2023.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked how, without a valuation, a claimant will know they are ready to move to the next stage of migration and how we will measure success. We continuously monitor test-and-learn activities within the discovery process and through gathering qualitative and quantitative evidence, with particular focus on those claimants who may have enhanced support needs. Learning is fed back into the design and implementation to ensure safe migration to UC.

The noble Baroness asked why we were removing the 10,000 limit. This limit creates a regulatory constraint on the number of claimants that can be migrated before legislation has to be amended. If we can roll out migration more widely, having a fixed point at which it is assessed no longer reflects how we wish to test and learn or work with others to evaluate safely moving claimants.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, also asked why the DWP did not automatically transfer all claims across to UC. Several systems hold personal data. The department may not have sufficient information to determine the full UC entitlement because some of this information may not be available. It is therefore crucial that new claims for UC are made to ensure that data is as accurate and as up to date as possible.

I was also asked how many will receive transitional protection. The DWP estimates that approximately 600,000 will be managed, migrated and eligible for transitional protection. All eligible claimants who move through the managed migration will be assessed and, where appropriate, awarded transitional protection. The 600,000 figure is based on an estimate of those who were still on legacy benefits in April 2022.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and others asked what has been done so far to ensure that vulnerable claimants are supported in the discovery phase. The DWP is working closely with claimants and support organisations to learn in a safe way what support is required and to adapt the service to meet those in need.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked how uprating will impact the level of transitional protection that claimants receive. We cannot comment on benefit uprating. We can say that transitional protection is eroded with an increase to, or addition of, another UC element, including uprating benefits.

The noble Baroness also asked whether any benefit claimants have had their claims terminated. Since the resumption of the move to UC, the discovery phase has made every effort to engage with claimants before their deadline day to try to understand why no claim has been made and to provide support in the making of their claim. Where the claimant is unable to make their claim within the three-month window and requires an extension, they are told to contact the DWP. In our briefing, there was talk of home visits and of going the extra mile to make sure that we engage with people who have not responded.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked why we could not extend the period in which a claimant could receive transitional protection beyond one month after the deadline of three months. Where a claimant makes a claim within one month of their deadline day passing, they will still be eligible for transitional protection.

The noble Baroness asked what safeguards will be in place so that no claimant will lose entitlement by failing to make a claim to UC by the deadline date. To prevent vulnerable claimants being disadvantaged, discovery has policy safeguards on which to draw and has put new ones in place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked how and why a claimant might have their deadline extended. A claimant’s deadline can be extended if it is believed that this would be in the interest of the claimant or the department. She asked whether we will publish a formal evaluation and report on operational readiness. We will continue to update Parliament at appropriate milestones, as we have done throughout the implementation of UC, and will continue to communicate as much as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked how DWP will engage Parliament in the next phase. As I have said, we are committed to openness and transparency in how we are implementing the next phase of migrating claimants to universal credit. We will continue to engage with Parliament, as during previous stages of universal credit, through standard parliamentary channels, sharing progress as and when it is possible to do so. He asked what safeguards will be in place so that no claimant loses their entitlement by failing to make a claim. To be clear, our goal has been and remains to support all claimants to claim UC and move them across safely. Terminating benefits is a last resort. To prevent vulnerable claimants being disadvantaged, the discovery phase has policy safeguards to draw on and has put new ones in place. They include extending the deadline date when a claim must be made, cancelling migration notices in certain circumstances and offering claimants support to make a claim for UC, such as through the independent help-to-claim services provided by the citizens advice service.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to transitional protection offering only temporary help and asked why we do not make it a permanent uplift. Transitional protection is not an indefinite increase in a claimant’s UC award. Transitional protection provides time for the claimant to adapt to their new level of entitlement. This is not new policy. The erosion over time of transitional elements of an initial award is an established principle in social security.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked how we will engage with Parliament in the next phase. I believe I have already answered that.

My noble friend Lord Farmer asked how many people are receiving out-of-work benefits or claiming the legacy ESA. There are around 1.2 million households on income-related ESA. Not all will be managed migrated and some will leave ESA prior to being moved. The second part of my noble friend’s question was about whether the migration of people currently claiming legacy employment support allowance into universal credit will mean that these claimants receive more attention from work coaches with the aim of being better enabled to work. A claimant’s requirement to engage with work coaches will depend on their circumstances. However, for the first time, we will be engaging with partners of former ESA claimants to support them in the labour market. The department recognises the importance of establishing the best possible support arrangements for those moving from legacy benefits to universal credit. There are around 400,000 new-style ESA claimants not subject to moving to UC.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked what the process of managed migration will look like post the pilot. Our learning from the discovery phase will determine how we start to select more claimants in a controlled way to move safely over to UC.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked what has been done so far to ensure that vulnerable claimants are supported in the discovery phase. The DWP is working closely with claimants and support organisations to learn in a safe way what support is required and to adapt the service to meet those needs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked how, without an evaluation, you will know you are ready to move to the next stage of migration. We continually monitor test-and-learn activities in the discovery phase. As I have said, by gathering qualitative and quantitative evidence based on the needs of claimants, who may have enhanced support needs, learning is fed back into the design. The noble Baroness asked how we will rapidly increase volume. The increase in the volume of claims migrated will start once the department is confident that it is ready to do so, and no earlier than 2023. I have already said that, but I want to emphasise it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked how we can support larger volumes. The department will consider several factors, including operational readiness, the efficiency of the service, key functionality being in place and ensuring that the department has processes in place to support vulnerable claimants before moving to higher volumes. The noble Baroness asked about signposting in the migration letters. When the claimant is unable to make their claim within the three-month window and requires an extension, they are told to contact DWP. Where they do not, we will make every effort to make contact with them. As I said, that might include home visits and interaction with key workers. The noble Baroness asked whether we will publish a formal evaluation and report on readiness. As I said, we will continue to update Parliament at appropriate milestones.

The noble Baroness and others asked whether we will start to scale. The department will increase the numbers required to move once we are confident in the process and that support is in place to move greater volumes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked what governance arrangements are in place for the discovery phase. The department has robust governance processes in place, with accountability to the independently chaired UC programme board and our steering group chaired by the Secretary of State.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked in what circumstances a claimant’s transitional protection will be eroded or terminated. Transitional protection will be reduced if another UC element, other than the childcare cost element, is awarded or increased. Transitional protection terminates if a claimant’s circumstances no longer resemble those when they claimed UC.

On the issue of uprating, I am afraid I cannot give any information. I am sorry, but I have to wait until the Secretary of State carries out—

Just to clarify, nobody who has raised the question of uprating has asked the Minister to comment on the amount by which benefits will be or should be uprated. On the assumption that every year there is some uprating, the value of transitional protection will be different before the next financial year or after, so if somebody moves before, they will be worse off than if they move after. The questions are, first, whatever those rates are, will the Government do anything about that? Secondly, will the department warn a claimant who could choose to migrate either side of the line that they will be worse off if they go this side of the line?

The answer to that question is that I will need to write to the noble Baroness. She raised it in our meeting and I have asked my officials to prepare me a written answer so that I get it correct. I will write to the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library.

All noble Lords who have taken part today have asked a number of justifiable and understandable questions. I will make sure with my officials that they are all answered in a subsequent letter. I thank all noble Lords who spoke whose questions enable us to clarify in more detail. Be reassured that the Government are fully aware of the concerns over the scrutiny of managed migration. We believe that managed migration to UC is the right step for claimants and that this is the right time. We believe we know how to protect claimants and are learning from the discovery phase. Given my response, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Motion to Regret.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lord who have spoken tonight and thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for making some important points about the position of vulnerable claimants and asking some good questions. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for a powerful speech illustrating the range of issues that will have to be considered very carefully over the weeks and months ahead. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for raising the questions he did and to the Minister for answering them.

Given the lateness of the hour and the business ahead of the House, I will not respond at great length, but I want to say a couple of things. First, the Minister said that my Motion was “mis-founded” because universal credit is good for claimants, so they should be encouraged to move across, and they do not want to do anything that gets in the way of that. She is right that many people will be better off on universal credit, but others will not. For those who will be worse off, it is small comfort that someone else will be better off. It is incredibly important that those who will be worse off, and especially the significant numbers who are vulnerable, are given appropriate support, that their needs are properly attended to and they are not simply left behind, as she said, when others are moved across.

Secondly, she is right that a number of people are worried about universal credit, but not just on the grounds of media comment. The experience of some universal credit claimants has not been good: waiting a long time for benefits, complicated processes, things that they did not understand. I know, just from the charities and churches that I have spoken to, that the experience has not always been straightforward. There are good reasons for people to be concerned.

There are a number of questions here. The Minister is right: she said the Government wanted to change the regulations because the new approach better fits with their strategy and the old approach placed some regulatory constraint. That was the point: the point was to place some constraint. That is why the Secretary of State did it; that is what it was for; and that is what the Government have simply abandoned.

The Minister has said several times that she will update Parliament at the appropriate stages. The fact is, once these regulations go through, there is nothing to require her to come to the Floor of this House and say anything. The only reason she is here tonight is because I tabled a Motion against these regulations, so once they go through, the department will have complete freedom to whatever it wishes. I am really grateful for the time and the detailed responses she has given, but will she please commit to going through Hansard with some care? I think she will find when she does that there were questions that were not answered, or not answered fully. Secondly, will she please look for opportunities to engage this House and not simply the Work and Pensions Select Committee, so that we, as well as the other place, can properly have our say?

I think I have emphasised the value of regular meetings, updating people and giving them the opportunity to advise us of things they are worried about and things that have gone wrong. I have given my word here. I know our Secretary of State—

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, saves the best line till last. I have no doubt that we want to take people with us; we want to know what does not work, and we want to amend it. I give noble Lords my word and the Government’s word that we will have that interface.

The point the noble Baroness raises about the people who will be better off and those who will not—they will not be any worse off with transitional protection—is a very fair one. These are the sort of things that people talk to each other about and get very worried about, so I will take that back and try to give a more definitive answer than I have given, if that is acceptable to the noble Baroness.

The Minister keeps talking as if transitional protection is the answer. As noble Lords have pointed out, many people will not get it or will not get it for very long, and there is the whole question of the inflation uprating. It is worrying for people: if they know what is going to happen, they know that transitional protection may not last long at all. So, please do not talk as if that is the answer.

I have no intention of talking as if that is the answer and nothing will be wrong after that. I understand that it has a fixed life. Our job is to work with these people, and I understand the vulnerabilities. I understand the barriers people face when work coaches are trying to find them extra hours they can do, taking into account the things that are stopping them now. The relationship with their work coach will be invaluable. There is nothing in a work coach’s job description that says they must say, “You’ve just got to do this”. I hope that the relationship with the work coach will make a huge difference, and that they will go to their superiors when there are real issues that cannot be overcome through those channels.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers. There are still some outstanding questions, and I remain very worried about the impact on people who are utterly dependent on the benefits they get to keep body and soul together. I very much hope that we will have opportunities to discuss this. However, I have reached the limit of what I can do about these regulations, and voting on this Motion would not change them. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.