Policy in Practice looks at the DWP’s Universal Credit managed migration discovery phase report and outline lessons and opportunities for wider rollout as we continue to explore the impact and implications of managed migration to Universal Credit.

Last year we wrote about managed migration and how people on legacy benefits could be supported. Listen back to the accompanying webinar for an overview of how the process of moving people from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit (UC) works.

This month the DWP released a new report looking at the ‘discovery phase’ of managed migration, where migration notices were given to people living across Bolton and Medway. A total of 499 people moved across.

The wide ranging report covers the results of the pilot of these migration notices and how claimants found moving to Universal Credit. In this blog post we focus on the following points:

  • Nine out of ten people sent a migration notice were successfully migrated to Universal Credit
  • Migrating to UC is a unique opportunity to help people access further support
  • How to maximise transitional protection when migrating to Universal Credit
  • Making Universal Credit appealing to claim, to increase take-up

Lessons learned from Universal Credit’s managed migration discovery phase

We conclude that the best way to improve the migration over to Universal Credit is to:

  1. Inform households about additional support available once UC claims are made
  2. Raise awareness about what transitional protection is, and how it is calculated
  3. Address distrust of Universal Credit with ongoing and clear communication, as in this report by DWP
  4. Use data to target eligible households and tell people if they will be better off under UC or not so they can choose to move sooner or wait for their managed migration notice

Nine out of ten people sent a migration notice were successfully migrated to Universal Credit

The discovery phase of managed migration has shown some positive results for those moving over to Universal Credit, but also shows warning signs for when the process is scaled up. Although the DWP emphasises that this is not a pilot of the proposed approach that will be rolled out nationally, there will still be opportunities to learn from it.

  • 88% of people who moved over to UC claimed within the deadline
  • 12% of households, mainly tax credit recipients, missed the deadline to claim

While the study shows that nine in ten people were supported successfully to move to Universal Credit, 12% represents sixty people in the trial group. If this was replicated nationally it would result in 150,000 claimants missing out on support. This group is likely to comprise mostly tax credit recipients.

The report suggests a number of reasons these claimants may not wish to move to UC, including:

  • A lack of awareness of passported benefits or about transitional protection
  • The possibility of fraudulent tax credit claims
  • Changes of circumstance in the tax year, or an unwillingness to change over

In addition, the imposition of a claimant commitment or the reputation of Universal Credit may make people less likely to want to move to Universal Credit.

Future managed migration pilots should seek to understand the concerns that people have when moving over so that communication can be better targeted, ensuring the highest possible take-up.

It is vital that people who do not claim Universal Credit are made aware of the other support that they may lose out on by not claiming, for example people who have not transferred over will lose out on future cost of living payments. They may also lose entitlement to any social tariffs, possible help with any health costs, free school meals or other passported support.

Migrating to Universal Credit is a unique opportunity to help people access further support

The DWP found that 55% of people were likely to be better off on Universal Credit. Policy in Practice found that local authorities could identify around 41% of households who would be better off moving to Universal Credit using their administrative data.

We know that households are typically unaware of the additional support they may be able to access to help with essential costs once they migrate to Universal Credit.

We think this is an opportunity for DWP and its partners to help people access this additional support.

  • Ofcom calculates that just 3.2% of households receiving Universal Credit are on a broadband social tariff and 63% of eligible consumers have not heard of broadband social tariffs. If households are being pushed into a mainly digital platform, there is potential to increase awareness and uptake of reduced internet or broadband bills
  • Universal Credit claimants may be able to access reduced social tariffs from their water company which may further reduce their outgoings
  • Council Tax Support can be worth over £1,000 a year. This is another area where the DWP could look to increase awareness for claimants. Councils can amend their CTR schemes to accept an expression of interest in CTR in the UC claim as an application, or proactively contact residents who have expressed an interest in claiming CTR with an invitation to claim it
  • UC claimants may also be entitled to energy support schemes. These include the Warm Home Discount, Cold Weather Payments, fuel vouchers or supplier-specific support.

Policy in Practice helps people access around £19 billion of unclaimed support each year. Organisations can use our Better Off Calculator or LIFT platform to help determine what support a claimant may be eligible for yet missing out on.

How to maximise transitional protection when migrating to Universal Credit

Transitional Protection (TP) is a key element of the move over to Universal Credit. It ensures that people who would be worse off are supported to the same amount that they would be previously on legacy benefits.

The level of Transitional Protection (TP) someone receives can be impacted by when they make their claim to transition to Universal Credit.

In the DWP’s new report, half of the 423 claimants in the cohort who are on Universal Credit and have a statement were awarded TP. Yet, crucially, the report goes on to say that claimants do not fully understand how Transitional Protection is calculated. This raises the possibility of claimants moving over to Universal Credit at the wrong time and losing out on any TP.

If a claimant is paid infrequently or irregularly and they were to claim Universal Credit at a time when their Universal Credit award is larger than it usually would be, they could lose out on Transitional Protection either altogether or for a period of time. This risks people becoming worse off through no other reason than a lack of understanding of how TP is calculated and when to claim.

The Better Off Calculator shows people what their next month’s Universal Credit award and following monthly payments will be. This enables people to identify the best time to move over to Universal Credit.

When claiming Universal Credit the TP is calculated as the difference between the total of any legacy benefits that a claimant is receiving, and the amount of Universal Credit that they are entitled to.

What’s more, people who have moved over to Universal Credit in this discovery phase are at a disadvantage compared to those who will move over later in the year or in the following years. This is because Transitional Protection is eroded with any increase in Universal Credit elements apart from childcare, due to inflation. People who have moved over will see their Transitional Protection eroded this April following the uprating of benefits.

Address distrust of Universal Credit to increase take-up

Societal distrust or unease surrounding Universal Credit will impact claimants’ willingness to claim the support available to them both financially through benefits but also in potentially, wider and more serious issues. Making Universal Credit appealing to claim could also encourage people to access wider support.

A mass migration over to Universal Credit presents the DWP with an opportunity not just to target those who are being migrated, but to help identify both those who would benefit from moving over to Universal Credit and those who are not currently claiming Universal Credit but who are entitled to it.

A campaign highlighting Universal Credit as a multi-functional benefit that supports people who are working, out of work, or unable to work, will help to increase take-up amongst people who are sceptical. It will also raise awareness of the additional support Universal Credit gives amongst people who don’t know they are eligible. 

Such a campaign could be expanded to help people access support that sits outside of Universal Credit, such as Council Tax support, social tariffs or other support.

Around £19 billion of support is unclaimed every year so benefits calculators are essential to show people if they’re missing out. The Better Off Calculator from Policy in Practice also shows people if they’re better off under Universal Credit or not

Using Localised Support and data is essential to encourage households to migrate to Universal Credit

The managed migration discovery phase report shows that DWP is willing to lean on local support and other more targeted support on a case-by-case basis to help vulnerable claimants who need extra help.

The small scale multi-agency approach the DWP is using in the discovery phase allows them to use local expertise and knowledge to reach claimants who may otherwise not engage with them. Visiting officers and local Advanced Customer Support Senior Leaders (ACSSLs) are playing an important role in helping to contact all claimants who have enhanced support needs before the end of their migration period.

Due to the vulnerability of some of these claimants termination of these claims after the deadline would not be appropriate as it is an inability rather than an unwillingness to claim that prevents them from doing so.

The level of support employed in the discovery phase will need to be scaled up to a much larger population, and a multi-agency approach is the right way to ensure that targeted support is given to all who need it.

Due to the number of claimants who will be transitioning when managed migration to Universal Credit is scaled up, local involvement of support sectors and local authorities will be critical to ensure that all claimants are given sufficient support.

Opportunities to improve managed migration to Universal Credit

DWP’s transparency about managed migration discovery phase and its progress will help to make the transition to Universal Credit as smooth as possible. Half of the people migrating will be better off on Universal Credit, providing additional support to people in a cost of living crisis.

To maximise take up of Universal Credit the DWP can make it appealing by helping those who may be worse off to access additional support and ensuring that claimants claim at the right time so that they access the best support available.

Advisors can help with this too by using both our Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) platform and Better Off Calculator to target support to people who will be migrated to Universal Credit.

Further research should be done to understand why some claimants are reluctant to move over to Universal Credit. The findings should inform future communication campaigns targeting people who are entitled to Universal Credit and not claiming, and people who are reluctant to transition to Universal Credit.

We believe a combined national and local approach can help ensure that the transition to Universal Credit is not only a success for those moving over to Universal Credit, but also boosts wider take-up.

Local authorities and frontline organisations have the knowledge and awareness of local claimants to help boost take-up and target those claimants who are especially vulnerable.

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