The next stage of the universal credit rollout appears to have been delayed amid concerns about the controversial new benefits system.
MPs were due to vote on whether to move three million benefit claimants onto universal credit in the next few weeks.
But this vote has been pushed back and Parliament will instead be asked to vote on transferring just 10,000 people to the new benefits system.
Ministers say all claimants will be on universal credit by 2023 as planned.
Universal credit is the UK’s welfare reform and is being phased in across the UK. It combines six different benefits into one monthly payment.
Supporters of the reform say it helps simplify the current benefits system, which is complicated.
But the rollout has run over budget, is years behind schedule and has been criticised for making an estimated 3.2 million households worse off.
More than one million people are currently in receipt of universal credit – either new claimants for benefits or those who have had a change in circumstances, perhaps by moving house.
The government’s plan is for almost seven million people to be on universal credit by 2023.
In the next few weeks, ministers were due to seek Parliamentary approval to move three million existing welfare claimants onto the new benefit.
But now Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd will seek approval for just 10,000 people to be moved onto universal credit in the summer.
That process will then be assessed and further Parliamentary approval sought before every other existing welfare claimant is moved.
A source close to Ms Rudd said the pause was the right thing to do, and should reassure Parliament that she was listening to MPs’ concerns.
The news that the government was pushing back the vote was first reported in the Observer on Sunday which quoted a Whitehall source as saying Ms Rudd wants a “fresh Parliamentary mandate” for the reform.
Ms Rudd, speaking when she was first given the job of work and pensions secretary in November last year, said she would listen “very carefully” to concerns over universal credit and admitted the system “can be better”.
She added that she would “learn from errors” and “adjust” the system, which she said had problems, where needed.
The government has agreed on several occasions to slow the pace at which universal credit is extended across the UK.
Ms Rudd’s predecessor, Esther McVey, announced that claimants will be given more time to switch to the new benefit and they would not have to wait as long for their money.
And in the 2018 Autumn Budget last month, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged an extra £1bn over five years to help those moving to the new payments and a £1,000 increase in the amount people can earn before losing benefits, at a cost of up to £1.7bn a year.
Universal credit is a benefit for working-age people.
It replaces six benefits – income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit – and merges them into one payment:
It was designed to make claiming benefits simpler.
A single universal credit payment is paid directly into claimants’ bank accounts to cover the benefits for which they are eligible.
Claimants then have to pay costs such as rent out of their universal credit payment (though there is a provision for people who are in rent arrears or have difficulty managing their money to have their rent paid directly to their landlord).
The latest available figures show that there were 1.4 million universal credit claimants in November.