Early roll-out for single benefit
The new single welfare benefit is to be introduced six months earlier than planned, with claimants in the North West experiencing it first from April next year.
The streamlined Universal Credit, which replaces a range of existing benefits, will be given its first test in Tameside, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced.
Up to 1,500 new claimants are expected to take up the Universal Credit each month in those areas from next April.
It will then be rolled out from October next year, initially on a small scale in each region but with new claims for the existing benefits entirely phased out by April 2014.
The Universal Credit will replace the current income-related jobseeker's allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), income support, working tax credits, child tax credits and housing benefit.
The transfer of millions of existing claimants to the new system is intended to be completed by 2017.
Mr Duncan Smith said: "By sweeping away the complexities of the current benefit system, Universal Credit will be simpler and more straightforward for people to claim and this early roll-out marks a significant step in the delivery of our welfare reforms.
"The early introduction of Universal Credit demonstrates our ongoing commitment to transforming the welfare system and will improve the lives of millions of claimants by incentivising work and making work pay."
Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said feedback from the first claimants next April would be used to make "final improvements" before it is launched nationally.
"This will ensure that we have a robust and reliable new service for people to make a claim when Universal Credit goes live nationally in October 2013," he said.