New computer system will root out fraudulent Chichester benefit claims

Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice are supporting people affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit
Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice are supporting people affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit

Computer software is being introduced to help Chichester District Council root out fraudulent benefit claimants.

The Xantura system identifies 50 ‘variables’ to predict the likelihood of fraud and error and will be used for all housing and council tax benefit claims.

On Tuesday cabinet members approved a 12-month trial of Risk Based Verification (RBV) to bring in similar software used by the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Cllr Philippa Hardwick, cabinet member for finance and government services, explained the software splits claimants into three categories. She said: “The risk categories are low, medium or high.

“The verification required from those claimants depends on the categories, high risk claimants are required to provide more robust and more extensive evidence to proceed with their claim.”

Cllr Hardwick said claimants were expected to be split evenly at around 33 per cent across the three groups, and those deemed high risk will undergo identity checks.

Cllr Peter Wilding raised concerns that important decisions would be made by a ‘black box’ that ‘we don’t know how it works’.

He said: “We’ve got the general data protection provision coming out in May 2018. Within it there is the right to protect against automated decision-making to ensure that potentially damaging decisions are not made without human intervention.”

In response, leader Tony Dignum said: “We must make sure our procedures have a human decision at the end.”

The DWP intends to use RVB for all Universal Credit (UC) claims. The meeting heard that UC’s full roll-out is expected to see a rise in claims for the council’s Discretionary Housing Payments, funding for people struggling to pay their rent.

The council has £142,000 in reserves earmarked for those hard up, alongside £232,844 from the DWP.

Cllr Roger Barrow said: “One of my main concerns is the effect Universal Credit will have on those communities who are vulnerable and hard up.

“With poorer residents facing a six weeks or more waiting time (to switch to the new benefit system) I’m wondering whether or not this fund is sufficient to meet that rising need.”

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