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WELFARE DATA WATCH

Big Brother Watch needs your help to understand the Department for Work and Pension’s
secretive risk-scoring algorithm that impacts millions of Britons,
the Housing Benefit Accuracy Award Indicator Initiative.

We need you to exercise your data rights to help uncover how the DWP is using algorithmic profiling to influence potentially life changing decisions, by demanding your data from the DWP and local councils.


TAKE ACTION

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 - yet 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 subject 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 considers all kinds 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 southeast 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 into 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

If you get Housing Benefit the Department for Work and Pensions is using your personal data to predict if you are a fraud risk.

2.8 million people will be risk scored on factors including their age and gender, and 1 in 7, around 400,000 people, will be flagged as a high fraud risk.

Every one of these 400,000 people flagged as a fraud risk by a computer system will be subject to an intrusive Full Case Review by their local council.

Most councils do not explain why individuals are having their Housing Benefit reviewed and why they must answer detailed questions over and over again.

Anyone receiving a Full Case Review letter must hand over the required information and some councils will halt Housing Benefits payments just one week after the letter is sent, leaving people with almost no time to respond.

Leaving a computer algorithm to decide who must submit to an intrusive examination of their benefits is an invasion of privacy and makes it possible for the HBAAI to entrench bias into the welfare system.

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

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 or the DWP holds on you and how it is used.

The responses you get will be vital to our research, if you decided to share it confidentially with Big Brother Watch. In return, we promise to do everything we can to explain how your data is being processed.

If you receive Housing Benefit and want to help, fill in this form and copy and paste this message into the “Information You Need Box”.

We suggest the date range for the request being from 1st January 2019 to the present day.

If you have received a Full Case Review letter about your Housing Benefit and want to find out more, send the above email to your local council as well as the DWP.

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.

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.

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