Lord Henley, parliamentary under-secretary for the department of work and pensions (DWP), has given “categorical assurance” that blockchain technology will not be used to monitor or control those claiming benefits after a small scale trial of the technology for making payments.
“The department of work and pensions has absolutely no access to any claimant information and will have no access to any claimant information in the future, in any trials," he said, after an initial question tabled by Lord Homes in the House of Lords about the future potential of blockchain, rolling out the trial further and its application elsewhere in government.
Information provided to Disc, formerly known as Govcoin, is governed by data protection rules, he added. Disc started working with the DWP, Barclays, Npower and University College London last summer to create the app that tracks spending.
“We haven't yet moved onto a fuller trial, but if we did, that would no doubt have the appropriate checks and balances and have the appropriate examination by the baroness in due course,” said Lord Henley, responding to concerns raised by Baroness Lister that the technology could be used to monitor or control benefit claimants’ payments.
He said he was assured that those participating in the first trial, which was first revealed last year by City A.M., gave full and informed consent and that “some found it very useful indeed”.
“It was only a small trial with some 20 to 30 people, it is more what is termed a proof-of-concept rather than a trial, but it certainly produced very encouraging results and we’ll want to look at those in due course,” he said, adding that “there is no next trial planned. We’re considering that”.
"The initial assessment of the small scale trial has been positive. The DWP continues to work with the industry to explore new and innovative products such as this which have the potential to support people with their personal budgeting and to reduce the overall cost of welfare administration," said Henley.
Blockchain's distributed ledger technology (DLT) has been cited by the government as a way of potentially saving billions of pounds of spending from welfare fraud and overpayment. The government's chief science adviser Sir Mark Walpole said in a major report last year that it "has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services".