Tag Archives: AI

Automated benefit decisions: Councils are already using machines to persecute benefit claimants

Days after we discovered the DWP is developing Artificial Intelligence to decide whether vulnerable claimants receive benefits – possibly whether they get to live or die – it turns out local councils have been buying similar systems from commercial businesses.

And there’s a serious problem: they don’t work.

According to The Guardian, companies including the US credit-rating businesses Experian and TransUnion, as well as the outsourcing specialist Capita and Palantir, a data-mining firm co-founded by the Trump-supporting billionaire Peter Thiel, are selling machine-learning packages to local authorities that are under pressure to save money.

It seems 140 of 408 councils – more than one-third – have invested in these systems, at great cost. One must presume they expect the savings to come over time.

They provide automated guidance on benefit claims, prevent child abuse and allocate school places.

But concerns have been raised about privacy and data security, the ability of council officials to understand how some of the systems work, and the difficulty for citizens in challenging automated decisions.

North Tyneside council has dropped TransUnion, after payments were wrongly delayed by the computer’s “predictive analytics”.

It automatically processed data about claimants for housing and council tax benefit to determine the likelihood it was fraudulent – “risk based verification”. But benefit claims were wrongly delayed.

Hackney council in east London has dropped Xantura, another company, from a project to predict child abuse and intervene before it happens, saying it did not deliver the expected benefits.

And Sunderland city council has not renewed a £4.5m data analytics contract for an “intelligence hub” provided by Palantir.

These experiences are leading to increasing concern that the use of algorithms – computerised instructions intended to solve problems (or in this case make decisions) is leaving vulnerable people at the whim of automated decisions they do not understand and therefore cannot challenge.

Local authority bosses do not understand how these systems work either, it seems.

And so the injustices creep into the system.

The DWP has told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies – but is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

So, as public participation charity Involve claims, there is a risk to citizens’ privacy and data security, and the potential for seriously harmful wrong decisions.

Suppose someone falls foul of a wrong decision on their Housing Benefit claim, made by a computer at their local authority.

Wouldn’t the computer at the DWP pick it up and use it against the same claimant in order to invalidate a claim for – say – Employment and Support Allowance?

If so, these machines could put innocent people deeply out-of-pocket – with no explanation and no accountability.

It is a program that can have only one result – disaster. Somebody will die – if they haven’t already.

Source: One in three councils using algorithms to make welfare decisions | Society | The Guardian

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It seems the DWP is automating persecution of benefit claimants – to limit responsibility for deaths?

If you thought the Department for Work and Pensions was a slaughterhouse with people running it, when they let machines administer benefit claims we’ll see some real maladministration!

That’s my opinion, anyway.

We live in a society in which more than seven-tenths of appeals against benefit denial are successful – indicating a serious procedural failing that the Conservative government has ignored entirely.

Worse than ignored, in fact.

It seems the Tories are diverting millions of pounds away from benefit payment, to develop artificial intelligences capable of cocking up claims in worse ways than even the human beings currently assigned to that task.

In fact, I’m wondering whether one of these automated systems has been deployed to screw up Mrs Mike’s claim for ESA.

We received a letter last week, retroactively refusing her claim for income-related ESA from August 2012, on the basis that I had been working more than 24 hours per week.

I’m on Carers’ Allowance; Vox Political is a sideline that I carry out in my spare time which – so far – has provided me with earnings within the limit placed on people in receipt of that benefit.

And on the date mentioned, it was just a hobby; I wasn’t trying to earn money with it and I wasn’t carrying out any other work either.

It is an entirely false claim.

Sure, it may be possible for a human being to make such a mistake – especially a human being working for the DWP. I think it is even more likely that a machine could do so.

And I’m not alone:

The UK government is accelerating the development of robots in the benefits system in a digitisation drive that vulnerable claimants fear could plunge them further into hunger and debt, the Guardian has learned.

Claimants have warned the existing automation in UC’s “digital by default” system has already driven some to hunger, breakdown and even attempted suicide.

One described the online process as a “Kafka-like carousel”, another as “hostile” and yet another as a “form of torture”.

Several said civil servants already appeared to be ruled by computer algorithms, unable to contradict their verdicts.

There is evidence of rising error rates in parts of the welfare system that have already been automated.

A system of realtime data-sharing between the HMRC tax office and the DWP about universal credit claimants’ earnings is triggering more and more disputes, with the rate rising fourfold between May 2017 and October 2018, according to the government’s own figures, with up to 5,700 people a month affected.

Serious questions are being asked about the validity of the sources being used by the automated systems:

The DWP has refused freedom of information requests to explain how it gathers data on citizens.

The ministry has previously told parliament it gathers data from private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative, which gather information from public and private bodies.

But it is now declining to update the list, claiming it would “compromise the usefulness of that data”.

It seems more likely that it would reveal the uselessness of that data, and the DWP is trying to hide the use of false information to wrongly push people off-benefit.

I’ll keep you all updated about my own case.

Hopefully we’ll know something conclusive before anybody else dies.

Source: Benefits system automation could plunge claimants deeper into poverty | Technology | The Guardian

EXTRA (October 15): I’ve received this on Twitter – and it is chilling:

I would appreciate your comments on this development.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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