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WELFARE DATA WATCH

Anyone whose life is touched by the welfare state, whether that is in social care, benefits or housing, may now be impacted by secretive data profiling, predictive analytics and algorithmic decisions. Algorithms, artificial intelligence and vast stores of data are being used to profile and monitor swathes of the population, a number that has only increased during the pandemic.

READ OUR REPORT

POVERTY PANOPTICON

Huge databases are being used to predict which children are at risk of harm or involvement in crime and which families are vulnerable, with little evidence the predictions are any better than the views of an experienced social worker, while benefits applicants are profiled and risk scored by computer systems by the Department for Work and Pensions and their local council.

Our report “Poverty Panopticon: the hidden algorithms shaping Britain’s welfare state”, published in July 2021 and formed from a 9-month investigation reveals how councils across the UK are conducting mass profiling and citizen scoring of welfare and social care recipients to predict fraud, rent non-payments and major life events.

Read the report by clicking here or on the image below

The algorithms that we have uncovered are unevidenced, incredibly invasive and likely discriminatory. Councils are using tools of automated suspicion without residents’ knowledge or their consent and risk disadvantaging and discriminating against Britain’s poor.

OUR KEY FINDINGS

RISK BASED VERIFICATION

  • 540,000 benefits applicants are secretly assigned fraud risk scores by councils’ algorithms
    before they can access housing benefit or council tax support.
  • Age, the number of children someone has or where they live can influence their fraud risk score - but councils say the tool is not biased
  • Credit reference agency TransUnion maintains
    a National Register of Benefits Claimants
  • RENTSENSE

  • Personal data from 1.6 million people living in social housing is processed by commercial algorithms to predict rent non-payers.
  • Universal Credit recipients can be subjected to added scrutiny just because of the benefits they receive
  • DWP HOUSING BENEFIT RISK SCORING

  • Around 3 million housing benefit recipients are risk profiled by the Department for Work and Pensions
  • Councils are forced to review the 400,000 most likely to have an error in their claim leading to a benefit cut
  • PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS

  • 250,000+ people’s data is processed by a range of secretive automated tools to predict the likelihood they’ll be abused, become homeless, be out of work or become involved in crime.
  • Bristol Council’s childhood predictive analytics database holds information on 170,000 people across more than 40 social issues
  • Xantura is trying to develop a “vulnerability lens” on the whole population to model all kinds of risk and their OneView system can consider all kinda of data, from your sex life to anger management issues
  • Hillingdon Council’s youth gang crime system can use a child’s school or where they live to model what behaviours they are likely to have
  • Tens of thousands of people in half a dozen areas have been profiled by a low-income family tracker, without their knowledge, but only a few hundred were flagged for additional support
  • TELECARE

  • Councils in the south east of England are trialling tablet computers that could replace in person care and require you to hand over personal details to call your loved ones
  • Amazon Echo Dot listening devices are being put in thousands of older people’s homes across the country without any additional data protection, meaning that Alexa is sending huge amounts of data about these people to the shopping giant

TAKE ACTION AND HELP OUR CAMPAIGN

Data protection rules entitle you to ask any public body how they use your information and why - your Subject Access Request lets you find what data your council holds on you and how it is used.

If you get a response and decide to share it confidentially with Big Brother Watch for our campaign we promise to do everything we can to explain how your data is being processed in return.

Enter your local authority into the box below and you’ll be given a template Subject Access Request, based on what we think is going on at your council, and send it in.

You may be asked to provide a copy of some ID to make sure you’re getting the right data, this is completely normal. You are always entitled to see how your info is used under the Data Protection Act.

Let us know if you have sent off a Subject Access Request, or if you have any questions, by emailing us at info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

Make a Subject Access Request by following these steps

  1. Identify the authority to send the request to and search online for their subject access request process. Many councils now have online forms for subject access requests. A list of all councils is available here.
  2. Contact your council stating clearly that specific information that you want. We’ve included a template below that you can personalise. It is important to include a) your contact details; b) any additional information (account numbers, etc.) that the council may use to distinguish you from others
  3. Search online for “Subject Access Request” and your council’s name to find the correct email or postal address to send your DSAR to - email is usually easier.
  4. Submit your request and retain a copy of your request, along with proof of sending/postage

If you share your response with us, we will treat it confidentially and help you understand what it means. Get in touch with our teams at info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

Spread the word!

Increase your impact: Share our work with anyone you think might be affected by this mass data gathering and ask them to get in touch!