Third of councils using algorithms to make welfare decisions

The Guardian is reporting that one in three councils are using computer algorithms to help make decisions about benefit claims and other welfare issues.

Despite evidence emerging that some of the systems are unreliable, companies are selling machine-learning packages to local authorities that are under pressure to save money.

The investigation from the newspaper has established that 140 councils out of 408 have now invested in the software contracts, which can run into millions of pounds, more than double the previous estimates.

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.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said: “Good use of data can be hugely beneficial in helping councils make services more targeted and effective … But it is important to note that data is only ever used to inform decisions and not make decisions for councils.”

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