THE Government is ‘forcing disabled people into gruelling and invasive benefit fraud investigations,’ a disability group has claimed.

A Manchester disabled people’s group has issued the Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with a legal letter challenging how it singles applicants out for investigations to prevent benefits fraud, using an algorithm.

A spokesperson for the DWP explained a specialist member of staff analyses and reviews all potential cases suspected of fraud and error.

The group, the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said people are now living ‘in fear of the brown envelope’ they could receive that could ‘throw their life into turmoil’.

Members said they have also received phone calls querying their status, without an explanation as to why they were being flagged for investigation.

Once flagged, the system ‘forces targeted people to repeatedly explain why they need payments in an aggressive and humiliating process that can last up to a year’, the GMCDP said.

The GMCDP said a ‘huge percentage’ of the group has been ‘targeted’ by the DWP system.

Some members said they have had to make long and frustrating calls to call centres, deal with confusing phone menus and unhelpful operators with no training to assist disabled and vulnerable people.

Others said they have been asked to fill in forms of over 80 pages that ask the same questions again and again, tripping them up.

The group has now sent a legal letter, supported by tech justice non-profit group Foxglove, demanding the government explain how the DWP’s algorithm works and what, if anything, it has done to eliminate bias.

The DWP has until December 15 to respond to that letter.

Charity Privacy International found a report from the DWP’s stating it was using ‘cutting-edge artificial intelligence to crack down on organised criminal gangs committing large-scale benefit fraud’ and it’s this algorithm that the GMCDP wants to challenge.

The group wants the DWP to demonstrate whether or not people singled out for investigation are disproportionately disabled, women, black, Asian or from minority ethnic groups and is calling for transparency so people have the opportunity to tell whether or not they are being treated unfairly.

Rick Burgess of the GMCDP said: “I suspect I have been flagged by this algorithm in the past. A huge percentage of disabled people have gone through it too. This causes us to be dragged through an invasive and highly stressful investigation, and frankly, we’ve had enough.

“We’re tired of the fear of the brown envelope and tired of being repeatedly forced by DWP officials just to justify who we are.

“It’s time for the DWP to come clean about how this algorithm works and explain why so many disabled people keep being flagged for investigation. Disabled people need support – not being ground down by a brutal system that assumes we are fraudulent until proven innocent.”

A Foxglove spokesperson said: “The DWP’s algorithm seems to send poor and disabled people to the call centre from hell. The DWP needs to explain exactly how its algorithm works and what it’s done to eliminate bias – or be taken to court.

“A machine in Whitehall spits out your name. It accuses you of lying about being disabled and shoves you into a bureaucratic hamster wheel of delays, doom loop phone menus and endless forms designed to trip you up. And it says nothing about why this is happening to you.

“This seems to be another case where government has created an algorithm that wields terrifying power over people’s lives with no input from the people it affects. The result is vulnerable people being trapped, humiliated and hurt. We’re proud to be working with GMCDP to make this right.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The DWP will be responding to the letter written by the representatives of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People in due course.”