The administration of Universal Credit

Key to the further automation and digitisation of welfare is a set of new systems for the administration and monitoring of Universal Credit. These include a system for DWP agents to manage claims and detect fraud, tools for landlords with tenants who receive Universal Credit, and mechanisms for claimants to delegate access to their account to third parties. Universal Credit also relies on IT systems from across government as well as older, legacy, DWP systems.

In tandem with the development of the digital account, DWP has developed a system for work coaches and other DWP staff to manage claims for Universal Credit. As with the digital account that claimants use, it is unclear exactly how the agent system works. However, there are some screenshots and videos available online that show parts of it.1 2

From these sources we can see that the agent system allows DWP staff to assign new items to a claimant’s to-do list and perform other actions on a claimant’s account. 3 DWP staff can also sign in to view the account as a claimant would see it and this function is used in face-to-face interviews at a jobcentre.4 While in this mode, “Viewing ” and the name of the claimant appear in a banner at the top of the page. The fact that a member of DWP staff viewed an account in this way does not appear to be recorded in the journal.

If a claimant is considered vulnerable, additional information can be “pinned” to the top of the journal when a work coach is viewing it.5 Similarly, a banner is also displayed to DWP staff in the administration system if a claimant has previously been recorded as displaying “unacceptable customer behaviour”. Staff can then check a separate “Staff Protection List” database for further information.6 It is unclear if or when the pinned journal entry or the unacceptable customer behaviour flag are visible to a claimant.

There are also, presumably, systems for the administration of the sanction regime and the appeals process. However, it has not been possible to establish how these work.

Fraud detection

As with the administration of sanctions, there is limited information on the tools DWP use to detect or estimate fraud. According to the NAO, in 2018 DWP intended “to develop a fully automated risk analysis and intelligence system on fraud and error.”7 The Risk and Intelligence Service (RIS) was launched in April 2018 to issue alerts to staff to assist them in identifying fraud across DWP. According to DWP’s 2018/19 Annual Report: 8

RIS is using increasingly sophisticated data and analytical tools to uncover cases of undeclared capital and failing to declare a partner (living together) with threat alerts now helping our service staff identify and prevent fraud.

It is unclear how these alerts are issued to staff or what processes are in place for ensuring the process operates in line with the rights of claimants (for example unfairly targeting claimants with protected characteristics).


In addition to the agent system and fraud capabilities, DWP has developed two systems for landlords of tenants who receive Universal Credit.

 Apply for a direct payment of rent is a service that any landlord can use to request that a portion of each Universal Credit payment is paid directly to them if a claimant is falling behind on their rent.9 As previously noted, for claimants wishing to initiate this process, there is no specific step in the application process and no dedicated tool that can be discovered via GOV.UK. Instead they must leave a note in their journal, and must therefore have been told that this is an option. Claimants in Scotland are prompted to make this choice via an item in their to-do list during their second monthly assessment cycle.

For large “social landlords”, such as local authorities or housing associations, DWP has developed a dedicated  Landlord Portal. This was developed to speed up the verification of the social rent details provided by claimants during the application process. 10 11 As of October 2019, 769 social landlords (so-called “Trusted Partners”) had registered for the service.12

The exact functionality of the service is unclear, but, each time one of their tenants makes a claim for Universal Credit they receive a notification. In addition to verifying the rent of new applications, they can also request direct payments from new and existing tenants. In return for signing up as a trusted partner, DWP also expects landlords to take on an additional role:13

In return, the Trusted Partner landlord is expected to identify if the claimant needs support, for example - advice about debt. They are expected to signpost them to the relevant organisation for that support.

As such, social landlords have become part of the Universal Credit system in a safeguarding role, not just as that of a passive verifier of facts.

The wider government context

The systems explicitly developed for the Universal Credit programme sit within a broader context of the DWP and government IT estates. It is beyond the scope of this report to cover this in full (annex 3 contains a longer list of some of the associated IT systems used in the delivery of Universal Credit), but three areas are of note when it comes to the broad understanding of the data ecosystem that Universal Credit sits within. These are the HMRC RTI system; the systems for managing the Work and Health Programme; and those for sharing data with local authorities.

As noted earlier, data from HMRC’s RTI system, which is used by employers to report earnings and other information to HMRC for the calculation of PAYE tax, has been repurposed for the provision of Universal Credit. RTI includes a broad set of data about an individual employee including their name, date of birth, passport number, information about their employer, their earnings and if they have taken part in industrial action.14

From the HMRC-DWP data sharing agreement, it is clear that DWP does not access HMRC’s systems directly, rather they create a copy of the data based on a set of National Insurance Numbers that are of interest to them, and add additional information, including about pensions.15 This process is not done in real-time - DWP send HMRC a new set of National Insurance numbers each day, and HMRC sends back the data four times a day, Monday to Friday. There is a process for handling “exceptions” where the National Insurance Numbers are not matched - but from the wording of the data sharing agreement, investigations appear to be manual rather than automated.16 Claimants get stuck in this gap between the two departments. The Child Poverty Action Group have described the appeal process as “opaque” and cited examples of claimants having to live with reduced payments until the internal DWP-HMRC investigation process has been exhausted.17

The system that DWP uses to share data about claimants with companies providing services under the Work and Health Programme is called PRaP. Among other things, companies use this to conduct an identity check (although they are instructed by DWP not to take a copy of any identity documents).18 They also use PRaP to report back via the system if a claimant has found a job.19

Finally, DWP operates various systems for sharing data about claimants with local authorities. The most recent of these is “Transfer Your Files”, which along with the ATLAS and DWP Data Hub systems enable the administration of the local elements of the welfare system. 20

The shared characteristic of these three systems is that, rather than providing access to central registers of data, they lead to the creation of more databases and encourage the duplication of information across government.

Third-party support

The final aspect of the administration of the system it is necessary to consider is the role of civil society organisations that support claimants. Just as the complexity of the tax system means that people require the support of accountants to engage with the government, the complexity of the welfare system has long meant that those relying on it need external support too. This was recognised as an issue in 2018 when the NAO recommended making it easier for third parties to support claimants by enabling the bulk upload of data, such as child-care information, and improving the two-way sharing of data (with consent from the claimant). 21

DWP has developed a process for people to delegate access to their account to people or organisations to help them with their claim.22 23 This is a manual process, requested in person or via the journal in the digital account, with consent then given over the phone or face-to-face (i.e. there is no explicit way to initiate this process from within the digital account). Delegates can access the entirety of a claimant’s account, except for bank account information and some types of personal information, which is hidden. Delegation appears to be on an all or nothing basis (i.e. there is no option of giving access just for a specific time period or task). Based on reports and screenshots that appeared on RightsNet in December 2019, it appears that internal DWP systems display a message to staff if an account is being managed by a delegate.24

Despite the moves towards more delegated access, there have been concerns about the use of an explicit consent model from welfare rights organisations.25 During the research for this report there was anecdotal evidence of the sharing of usernames and passwords in the process of supporting claimants, also of messages being posted in the journal by support organisations but not being clearly demarcated as such in the design. There was also some unease about seeing the full details of a claimant’s account and the difficulty of understanding the full history of a claim.26

  1. “Working with your Work Coach (Universal Credit full service)”, Universal Credit In Action - YouTube, 23rd July 2017, 

  2. See screenshot on page 3 of the PDF linked to from this discussion: “Discussion: Update on ’service design improvements’ - Rightsnet”, Rightsnet,, retrieved 30th December 2019 

  3. “Universal Credit In Action”, Youtube, 10:52,, retrieved 27th October 2019 

  4. Interview with claimant 

  5. National Audit Office, “Rolling out Universal Credit”, p32, 11th June 2018,, retrieved 4th October 2019 

  6. UCB, 

  7. National Audit Office, “Rolling out Universal Credit”, p61, 11th June 2018,, retrieved 4th October 2019 

  8. Department for Work and Pensions, “DWP annual report and accounts 2018 to 2019”, GOV.UK, 27th June 2019, p69,122,, retrieved 15 December 2019 

  9. HM Government, “Apply for a direct payment of rent”, GOV.UK,, retrieved 15th December 2019 

  10. National Audit Office, “Rolling out Universal Credit”, p18, 11th June 2018,, retrieved 4th October 2019 

  11. See screenshot on page 6 of the PDF linked to from this discussion: “Discussion: Update on ’service design improvements’ - Rightsnet”, Rightsnet,, retrieved 30th December 2019 

  12. “Universal Credit Trusted Partners”, 

  13. “Universal Credit Trusted Partners”, 

  14. HMRC, “Guidance on RTI Data Items from April 2019”,, retrieved 23rd October 2019 

  15. DWP’s copy of RTI is called RTE. See: “Real time information”, 

  16. “Memorandum of Understanding (Process) between HMRC (PT Operations) and The Department for Work and Pensions, Universal Credit In Respect of the Exchange of Information as a result of the Interface established between RTI and UC”,, retrieved 29th October 2019 

  17. CPAG, “Universal credit claimants blocked from challenging DWP decisions”, CPAG website, 19th July 2019, 

  18. Department for Work and Pensions,”Work and Health Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 - Acknowledging referrals, initial Participant engagement and registering a start”, p6,, retrieved 23rd October 2019 

  19. Department for Work and Pensions, PRaP Questions and Answers,, retrieved 23rd October 2019 

  20. Department for Work and Pensions, “LA Welfare Direct Bulletin 2/2019”, GOV.UK, 18th October 2019,, retrieved 23 October 2019 

  21. National Audit Office, “Rolling out Universal Credit”, p11, 11th June 2018,, retrieved 4th October 2019 

  22. Department for Work and Pensions, “Universal Credit consent and disclosure of information”, 5th March 2018, 

  23. “Appointees, Personal Acting Bodies and Corporate Acting Bodies”, 

  24. “Discussion: Update on ’service design improvements’ - Rightsnet”, Rightsnet,, retrieved 30th December 2019 

  25. Victoria Todd, “Consent in Universal Credit: understanding what works”, Social Security Advisory Committee, 7th August 2019 at 12:00,, retrieved 30th September 2019 

  26. Interview