UC roll-out; letter to local authorities from the new SRO

Dear Colleagues,

I have recently taken over from Howard Shiplee as the Universal Credit Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) and I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself.

I would first like to say how much I am looking forward to working with you all on such an important and exciting agenda. My career started out by working in a local benefits office administering claims for income support many moons ago and have held a series of roles in policy operations in the Benefits Agency as District Manager for Cambridgeshire and then Finance Director for East London and Anglia. Following this I returned to HQ again where I spent 3 years as the Principal Private Secretary to both Alistair Darling and Andrew Smith.

Since 2003 I’ve held a number of different director posts within both Operations, Policy and Strategy as Director for the South-East Region for Jobcentre Plus, Jobcentre Plus Director for Benefits and Fraud, Director for Benefit Strategy, Director for Working Age Benefits and most recently, since October 2012, I held the post of DWP Work Services Director where I was responsible for all 714 Jobcentres across Great Britain and around 30,000 people. All of these roles necessitated working closely with Local Government partners and I very much look forward to continuing that relationship in my new role.

Universal Credit and I have crossed paths before. I led the team who put together the policy whilst working in DWP Strategy. I also came back on a short-term and part time basis to be the SRO for the Pathfinders. I have as head of Jobcentres, been embedding elements of Universal Credit into live running such as the Claimant Commitment and more recently the Delivery Partnership Agreements established in the North West of England.

The plan, announced by the Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith on 29 September and confirmed through the Written Ministerial Statement on 13 October, sets out further expansion of Universal Credit. Starting in February 2015 we will roll out Universal Credit across Great Britain for all new single claims previously eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) including those with existing Housing Benefit and Tax Credit claims.

The Written Ministerial Statement can be accessed through the following link – http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-vote-office/2014-October/13th…

This approach is consistent with our ‘test and learn’ commitment to expand the service in a safe, secure and controlled manner. This plan, which has been assured by the Major Projects Authority and signed off by HM Treasury sets out our intention that natural migration will build the Universal Credit caseload over time, as household circumstances change and they become eligible for, and claim, Universal Credit. New claims to the benefits Universal Credit will replace will close from 2016, and the establishment of the Universal Credit service across Great Britain will be complete by 2017.

The Universal Credit caseload will continue to build naturally from 2017 onwards. We will also support, where needed, the managed migration of those claimants who have not already moved onto Universal Credit.

We will work in partnership with local authorities over the coming months, to develop our plans for transition and migration. We will do this through strategic engagement with the Partnership Forum and Transition Working Group. We will also work with agreed local authority and local government representatives on the detailed plans and schedule.

These announcements give us tremendous opportunities to work with you to expand the service.

We know, from our long and successful partnership with you, that there are many issues on which we need to work together to achieve that success. I would also like to reassure you, as has been stated earlier, that the national expansion of Universal Credit will not directly affect the figure agreed to administer Housing Benefit during the 2015/16 financial year.

I look forward to working with you as we expand Universal Credit across Great Britain.


Neil Couling