DWP algorithm falsely identified 200k benefits claimants for fraud or error

24/06/2024 | The Guardian

In the last three years, more than 200,000 individuals have been wrongly investigated for housing benefit fraud due to a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) algorithm not performing as expected, according to a Big Brother Watch (BBW) investigation. The algorithm had initially indicated in a pilot that 64% of claims were potentially high risk. However, official figures revealed that between 34% and 37% of flagged claims were not legitimate over the period, leading to unnecessary inquiries and approximately £4.4m in wasted funds. 

In January 2023, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) downplayed concerns regarding the use of such algorithms by 11 local authorities and DWP. In a blog article, Deputy Commissioner for Regulatory Supervision Steven Bonner wrote: "People should feel confident that this data is handled appropriately, lawfully, and fairly. This should especially be the case when accessing welfare or social support, where an individual may be at their most vulnerable. They should also be confident that none of their personal data is being used to discriminate against them, either consciously or unconsciously."

In a statement, Susannah Copson, Legal & Policy Officer for BBW, said: "This is yet another example of DWP focusing on the prospect of algorithm-led fraud detection that seriously underperforms in practice. In reality, DWP's overreliance on new technologies puts the rights of people who are often already disadvantaged, marginalised, and vulnerable, in the backseat."

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