UK: Action taken after tenants’ personal files go missing

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found the Orbit Heart of England Housing Association to be in breach of the Data Protection Act after 57 paper files containing personal data went missing during an office move.

Forty-two of the files were recovered in full, but 15 which contain a significant amount of personal data relating to each tenant and, in some cases, members of his or her family, are still missing. In addition, some of the data involved contained information as to the ethnicity, physical or mental health of individuals.
The Housing Association took immediate steps to investigate the matter after it was contacted by a third party which found a number of files in filing cabinets that it had bought second hand. Orbit Heart of England Housing Association contacted affected individuals straight away and introduced a new procedure for future office moves. It also reported the incident to the ICO without delay and co-operated fully with the subsequent investigation.

The ICO established that no inventory of files had been made prior to the move so staff were initially uncertain how many files should have been received at the new office, but Orbit’s new office move procedure will address this risk in future.

A formal Undertaking has been signed by the Orbit Heart of England Housing Association to ensure that personal data is processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The Association will make all staff aware of the organization’s new procedures with regard to office moves, disposal of equipment and the storage and use of personal data.

Sally – Anne Poole Head of Enforcement and Investigations at the ICO, said: “This highlights the importance of ensuring correct procedures are in place when moving files containing people’s personal details. These files included sensitive personal information which was compromised and it is concerning that 15 of these files are still missing. I am pleased that the organization reported the breach to us and has taken steps to ensure that data is now sufficiently protected, especially the enforcement of new procedures with regard to office moves.”

Failure to meet the terms of the Undertaking is likely to lead to enforcement action by the ICO. A copy of the Undertaking can be downloaded from http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/data_protection/enforcement.aspx.

The ICO has also published a new guide to data protection to help organizations comply with the law.

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