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Use of algorithms to detect ‘high risk’ HB/CTB claimants - Guardian looking to speak to claimants


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I’ve been contacted by Rob Booth, Social Affairs Correspondent at the Guardian who is keen to speak to claimants ideally (but possibly also advisers) who may have been assessed as ‘high risk’ due to the use of algorithms which may have then caused problems when they claimed HB/CTB or notified changes of circumstances. Below is a message from Rob - do get in touch with him if you think you can help -

Hi - my name is Robert Booth, social affairs correspondent at the Guardian. I wonder if you could help me with a story I’m working on.

It concerns secretive algorithms and computer automation used by some councils to process housing benefit and council tax benefit claims.

We have found out some interesting information about how the mathematics works and the huge volume of information about claimants the automated system processes to decide if claimants are likely to be cheating.

It is worrying in terms of potentially building bias into the system. If the algorithm determines the claimant to be “high risk” it slows down their application, makes them jump through lots more hoops in terms of paperwork and can trigger face to face interviews.

It is really important for me to include the voices of claimants in the piece. You almost certainly don’t know you have been affected by this computer system but if you have claimed housing benefit or council tax benefit in the last few years through one of the councils listed below I would love to speak to you for the piece.

I would need to speak to you by Thursday 15 July. If you can help I’d be most grateful. Please send a number as soon as you can to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and I’ll call you back.

These are the councils which we know use the algorithms for housing benefit and council tax benefit -
Erewash Borough
London Borough of Bromley
Carlisle City Council
Gloucester City Council
Birmingham City Council
East Staffordshire Borough Council
Gwynedd Council
Powys County Council
South Derbyshire
Southend-on-Sea Council
Tamworth Borough Council
Trafford Council
West Lothian Council
London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
Chichester District Council
East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Scottish Borders Council
Angus Council
Bolsover District Council
Canterbury City Council
Dover District Council
Gedling Borough Council
Ipswich Borough Council
London Borough of Waltham Forest
North East Derbyshire
Reading Borough Council
Renfrewshire Council
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
Sunderland City Council
Rutland County Council
Sevenoaks District Council
Arun District Council
Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
Cardiff Council
Cherwell District Council
Conwy County Borough Council
Coventry City Council
Denbighshire Council
London Borough of Brent
London Borough of Haringey
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Lambeth
London Borough of Redbridge
Luton Borough Council
Milton Keynes Council
North West Leicestershire
Northampton Borough Council
Salford City Council
South Ayrshire Council
South Hams District Council
Thurrock Council
London Borough of Hounslow
North Somerset Council
Wealden District Council
South Ribble Borough Council


Peter Turville
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Welfare rights worker - Oxford Community Work Agency

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Joined: 18 June 2010

How likely is it that a claimant / adviser will become aware that the additional ‘hurdles’ with the claim are due to being identified by an algorithm as ‘high risk’ rather than some other problem such as poor administration / delays / failure by claimant to provide the evidence usually required etc? Presumable the council isn’t going to tell them! At best it may only be a suspicion that an algorithm is involved? Which of course is a good reason to investigate the impact further.