UK Liberty

Housing benefit details lost

Posted in database state, privacy by ukliberty on December 3, 2007

The Telegraph:

Government officials have halted the transfer of personal data of millions of people after admitting they have lost more computer discs.

The Department for Work and Pensions has suspended all “data exchanges” with local authorities because discs containing details of council tax and housing benefit claimants have been mislaid.

The loss of information, including national insurance numbers, names, addresses and birth dates, was confirmed in a confidential memo last week from the Local Government Association to councils.

At least 45,000 names and personal details are known to have gone missing from one council, with the DWP admitting last night that more authorities have lost discs.

The DWP is the second government department to admit losing data, after the revelation that the Treasury had mislaid 25 million child benefit records at Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

Local authorities normally send discs to the sprawling DWP offices at Longbenton, in Newcastle, every month.

Why?  What is the point of having a database if someone cannot be setup with a limited view, where they have to authenticate to access it?

They contain personal details of five million people who receive council tax benefit and four million who claim housing benefit. The records are then checked against details held by the DWP.

It is a statutory obligation for councils to provide the information every month and any that fails to do so is threatened with grant cuts.

What is the purpose of this system?  Are the councils not trusted to administer housing benefit?  What is the problem we are trying to solve here and can it be solved in a better way?

In the first week of August, Kirklees Council, in West Yorks, sent two discs containing the details of 45,000 residents to the DWP via the delivery firm TNT, which was also involved in transporting the child benefit records.

On September 2, the DWP contacted officials at Kirklees to say the information had not arrived but was reassured when the council produced a TNT receipt.

On November 23, two days after the news that child benefit records had been lost was confirmed in the Commons, the council was told the discs were still missing. The DWP abruptly suspended data record exchanges.

A source at Kirklees Council, said: “The frightening thing is that when it happens, other councils are simply told, ‘don’t worry, just send us another disc’.”

Pretty shocking really.

Robert Light, the leader of Kirklees Council, said: “We’re very worried about the ability of government departments to handle the sensitive information which councils are obliged to pass on.”

A spokesman for the DWP said discs from a “tiny number” of councils had been lost. “We have immediately stopped all transfers of data in and out of the department as part of a review we instigated in the light of the problems at the HMRC. We think the discs from Kirklees are still somewhere in the system but we don’t know where.”

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