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The UK government is in talks with a blockchain startup offering to root out fraudulent furlough claims using AI


FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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UK government officials held talks on Friday with a homegrown blockchain startup to discuss using its AI-driven solution to root out fraudulent furlough claims. 

At the peak of Britain’s COVID-19 epidemic in May, almost a third of Britain’s workforce was furloughed, with the government paying up to 80% of the salaries of workers up to £2,500 – or $3,075 – a month.

Since then, however, tax collector HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has warned that up to £3.5 billion – or $4.5 billion – may have been spent on fraudulent or mistaken claims. The agency said it was investigating some 27,000 “high risk” incidents. 

The Proof of Trust (TPOT), a startup that says it uses blockchain technology to automate dispute resolution processes, last month published an open letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak offering “independent adjudication of every single ‘high risk’ claim within days … at a fraction of the cost.”

The firm is pitching to log HMRC’s case backlog on its distributed ledger and then use artificial intelligence to allocate them to disparate panels of legal and financial experts, then have their individual judgments quickly filtered back to the tax collector.

Speaking to Business Insider, TPOT chief exec Dean Armstrong highlighted the pressure the UK’s judicial system had faced under COVID-19, with more than 500,000 outstanding cases awaiting hearings. 

“We’re not trying to replace the courts,” he said. “We can complement the existing system. There is a huge number of disputes which could be resolved much earlier in the process, and that would free up a lot of capacity for the courts to deal with other issues.” 

Armstrong said he attended a meeting on September 9 with HMRC alongside Kevin Gill, a senior exec at IBM — which co-designed the startup’s system.

There is no indication yet that HMRC will adopt the solution. Business Insider approached HMRC for comment. 

Armstrong added: “We don’t think we’ve got the divine right to go in and sort it all out. But I think the government ought to take notice.” 

The UK government has made previous noises about its interest in blockchain technology. HM Land Registry, which registers land and property sales in the UK, experimented with using blockchain to see if the tech could speed up house sales. 

But the government’s more recent forays into experimental tech have had decidedly mixed results.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson was almost forced to resign after a flawed algorithm awarded millions of students worse-than-predicted grades in lieu of cancelled school exams. 

And a recent email from PM Boris Johnson’s most senior advisor Dominic Cummings, leaked to Business Insider, in which he said he was looking at “ways we can build [$1 trillion] tech companies” was met with severe criticism on social media. 

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Source:: Business Insider

      

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