A large-scale roll-out of controversial welfare reform Universal Credit has been pushed back to late 2019.
A “managed migration” onto the reform, which combines six benefit payments into one monthly sum, was due to begin in January.
Leaked documents seen by the BBC revealed that plans to move four million people onto the scheme will not begin until November 2020 at the earliest.
The BBC said the move was a bid to reduce the negative impact already felt by people moved onto the system.
Employment Minister Alok Sharma said he “would not comment” on speculation, but appeared to confirm the roll-out test phase would begin late next year, as opposed to January.
Answering an urgent question tabled on Tuesday by DWP select committee chairman Frank Field, Sharma said: “Some of the matters [Field] will be alluding to are the subject of speculation in the media.
“There has been a great deal of speculation on Universal Credit over the past few days, and I cannot, and will not, comment on speculation.
“We have long said that we will take a slow and measured approach to managed migration and that is why we will continue to take a ‘test and learn’ approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.”
“The process will begin later next year in a measured way”
He added: “By December 2018, Universal Credit will be in every job centre in the country. People who are making new claims to our benefit system now apply for Universal Credit, rather than being put on the old system.
“The process will begin later next year in a measured way with no more than 10,000 people moved over, to ensure that the system is working well for claimants and to make any necessary adaptation as we go.
“We have said for a long time that the managed migration process will take place from 2019 to 2023.”
Last a week a number of critics hit out at the scheme – including senior ministers – expressing concerns amid widespread backlash.
On Monday, Field warned McVey that the scheme is driving women into prostitution.
The Birkenhead MP said women in his constituency “have taken to the red light district for the first time” as the system is pushing them into poverty.
Constituencies which have undergone a move from the old system to Universal Credit have reported a rise in food bank usage, while a significant proportion of landlords with tenants claiming Universal Credit say they are owed rent arrears.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Today’s news suggests the government recognises Universal Credit has serious problems that must be fixed before tens of thousands more people are moved onto the new benefit.
“If implemented, the measures set out in the leaked document could reduce the risk of greater hardship as a result of moving onto the benefit.
“But Universal Credit is a complex system, and these measures alone will not solve all of the problems. The government must make changes to ensure no one is left without enough to get by.”