THE Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been warned about its plans to snoop on bank accounts to combat fraud, with MPs stressing it risks replicating the Horizon scandal.

The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is set to compel banks and building societies to give the DWP data to search for fraud and error in the benefits system.

But in a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride and Innovation Secretary Michelle Donelan, MPs have expressed “deep concern” the move could reverse the “well-established” presumption of innocence.

Conservative MPs Marcus Fysh and Charles Walker were among those who signed the letter, alongside Scottish LibDem MP Wendy Chamberlain and Green Party welfare spokesperson Catherine Rowett.

It was also signed by Labour MPs Ian Byrne, Richard Burgon, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Zarah Sultana, Debbie Abrahams, Ian Byrne, Kim Johnson, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Sam Tarry and Mick Whitley – as well as MP Diane Abbott, who has had the Labour whip removed.

READ MORE: St George's Day: Leaders urged to stop blurring lines between England and Britain

A number of peers were also signatories of the letter.

The letter said: “While we are sure this is not your intention, the broad and far-reaching nature of these powers would be highly intrusive.

“Issuing an account information notice would require banks to sift through tens of millions of bank accounts in order to identify people in the welfare system, around 40% of the population, in pursuit of indicators of fraud or error.

“Searching for such signals without reasonable grounds for suspicion would reverse the well-established presumption of innocence. Indeed, anyone in receipt of welfare payments would automatically be subject to intrusive financial scrutiny solely due to their benefit status.

“There is a real risk that such efforts to fight fraud will come very much at the expense of the poor, the disabled, and the elderly.”

The bill is currently in committee stage in the House of Lords where is has faced extensive criticism.

READ MORE: Scotland could be hit 'with £22bn nuclear clean-up bill'

Speaking at the debate, Baroness Kidron said: “I cannot work out for the life of me if these measures are intended to hurt, or if a focus on the shiny prospect of AI to sort out DWP problems, led incrementally to this place.”

If the bill were to pass, the DWP will be able to request details around benefit claimants and any connected bank accounts. These could include those of landlords, family members, partners or ex-partners.

Campaign Big Brother Watch, backed by more than 40 charities and organisations, recently wrote to Stride to warn that the plans risk repeating mistakes made in the Post Office Scandal.

The letter from MPs added: “We note the tragic events of the Horizon scandal in which innocent people suffered wrongful prosecutions, financial ruin, and reputational damage following data used from faulty software in algorithmic systems.

"We cannot condone powers that risk replicating this disaster on a much broader scale with vulnerable people, many of whom live on the poverty line."