The department has announced that a new base in the Wiltshire town will house 600 staff, whose work reviewing cases comes alongside major investments in rolling out automation and AI
The Department for Work and Pensions is setting up a new base in Swindon that will house 600 staff tasked with cutting down on fraud and error in Universal Credit payment.
It is currently recruiting staff for the team will be based at the Polaris House government building – which is also the home of UK Research and Innovation and the UK Space Agency.
The new Swindon recruits will form part of a team of 6,000 staff working on so-called “targeted case reviews” of Universal Credit claimants across the nation as part of an initiative that aims to stop £6.4bn in fraud by 2027-28.
In September, DWP’s senior responsible owner for the programme, Neil Couling, told MPs the department expected to have 2,000 review staff in place by now. The department plans to have its full complement of staff for the £443m programme by March 2025. Successful applicants for the Swindon jobs are expected to start in January.
Their work will complement the use of automated technology, which has become an increasingly important part of the department’s anti-fraud work. An algorithm – which critics have claimed has been deployed without “transparency and accountability” – was implemented in 2021 with the aim of flagging fraudulent claims for Universal Credit advances.
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DWP’s most recent annual report revealed that, in the period up to 2025, the DWP plans to invest £70m in further deploying “advanced analytics” and “machine learning” tools in its fraud and error operations.
In a recent piece for PublicTechnology, civil society group the Public Law Project recently warned that the DWP could be “sleepwalking into an AI disaster”. Amid ongoing concerns about the opacity of he the technology and the possibility that it could perpetuate bias, the department has indicated that humans retain the final say in any instance where benefits are to be denied because of fraud or error.
The annual report estimates that the department overpaid benefits excluding state pension to the tune of £8.2bn in 2022-23.
While the figure is down on the previous year’s £8.6bn, it is considerably more than the £4.4bn of fraud and error recorded in 2019-20. The bulk of the benefits fraud related to Universal Credit.
DWP this week said it was also “working closely” with its directorates to encourage staff development at the same time as “mitigating the impact of successful internal recruitment on teams”. It added that the targeted case review roles were an “ideal opportunity” for promotion or an internal career move for existing departmental staff.
A spokesperson said: “Our recruitment in Swindon will provide a major boost for the local economy while supporting our efforts to reduce the levels of fraud and error across Universal Credit to save £6.4bn by 2028.These vital new roles will ensure that the taxpayer gets the best value for money from our welfare system – which is in all our interests.”
PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, said it welcomed any recruitment to the department but was concerned that the drive to hire new Universal Credit Review officers was leading to “chaos” in other areas of work, fuelled by promotions among some internal recruits joining the programme.
“The mass recruitment into targeted case review roles is unbalancing other services in DWP with large numbers of [administrative officers] moving into the new roles,” the union said. “Promotion is to be welcomed but the DWP are not addressing the chaos that is left behind in the areas that staff are migrating from.”
The union said it wanted to meet with DWP management to “understand the rationale” for the location of the targeted case review jobs and to ensure recruitment is done “in the correct manner”.
It added that the recruitment campaign was a “kick in the teeth” for some 800 DWP staff recently made redundant following other site closures.
PCS has previously expressed concerns that DWP is looking to outsource some of the targeted case-review roles. Couling told members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last month that the department was exploring the potential for up to 2,400 of the new roles to be provided by the private sector.